Boat Operator Fined for Getting Close to Whales

Byline: Associated Press/Becky Bohrer

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The owner and operator of an Alaska charter vessel was considering whether to appeal after being fined for getting too close to whales.

Administrative law judge Susan Biro last week fined Geoffrey Wilson and Alaska Yacht Charters $5,000 in connection with the July 2010 incident on the western side of Admiralty Island in Southeast Alaska.

Wilson, who has 24 years’ chartering experience, said he respects what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is trying to do to protect whales, but he said the agency relied on the statements of two individuals on another boat, whom he believed misinterpreted the situation. The two testified Wilson’s boat “essentially drove through the pod of six to eight humpback whales.”

According to Biro’s decision, Wilson was preparing to take clients on his boat salmon fishing when a crewmember spotted whales nearly 2 miles away. The clients wanted to see them. Wilson asked his crewmember where she’d seen them before setting off. He eventually approached another vessel and tried to move out of its way when whales breached within 10 yards of his boat.

Biro found the incident was not intentional but deemed it reckless, with regard to federal rules that prohibit coming within 100 yards of humpback whales in Alaska.

“In his haste to provide his clients with a closeup whale watching experience, he knowingly proceeded without adequate caution in the face of a known and substantial risk of approaching too close (i.e., illegally) to the humpback whales,” Biro wrote. While Wilson couldn’t see the precise location of the whales, he knew the general vicinity and, with his experience, is knowledgeable about whale behavior and regulations, she said.

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