Juneau Business Fined Nearly $12K For Whale-Watching Violations

Humpback whale diving in Juneau. (Creative Commons photo by Tony Hisgett)
Humpback whale diving in Juneau. (Creative Commons photo by Tony Hisgett)

Tour company Juneau Whale Watch recently finished paying almost $12,000 in fines for violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration cited the business last fall for two violations that occurred in August 2013. Both incidents were reported to NOAA by members of the public and were verified with video and photo evidence.

The first violation took place around Horse and Colt Islands. In a news release, NOAA says a Juneau Whale Watch boat was seen chasing a pod of orcas, which caused the whales to change direction.

A week later, the company violated the “hundred-yard rule.” It’s unlawful to approach a humpback whale within 100 yards. During off-duty time, Juneau Whale Watch staff members were seen paddle boarding near humpback whales, including a mother and calf.

Juneau Whale Watch accepted responsibility and agreed to pay the fines soon after being notified of the violations. General Manager Serene Hutchinson says the company has made sure incidents like those haven’t happened since.

“This was an eye-opening experience. We have increased our trainings of our captains and we’ve gone over the regulations better and we have more experienced captains now.”

Hutchinson says the captain involved in both violations is no longer with the company.

NOAA enforcement officer Robert Marvelle says, so far this season, the agency hasn’t received any complaints about potential violations on the water.

Besides following to the 100-yard rule for humpback whales, Marvelle says boaters shouldn’t alter the behavior of marine mammals by getting too close.

“Give the animals space to do what they naturally need to do — for eating, just transiting the area, playing, all that.”

When the cruise ship season is in full swing, Marvelle says up to 60 boats can be in North Pass watching whales. They include charter fishing boats, whale watching boats and sport boats.