Concerns raised on proposed vessel exclusion zone

Whale Nursery: Six mother and calf pairs in the heart of the whale nursery area near Frenchmans Rock out from Port Elliot and Bashams Beach in 2013.
Whale Nursery: Six mother and calf pairs in the heart of the whale nursery area near Frenchmans Rock out from Port Elliot and Bashams Beach in 2013.

The Department for Environment and Water (DEW) says they are regularly contacted by community members concerned about vessels approaching whales in the Encounter Bay Restricted area, a section of which has recently been identified as an area for a proposed motorised vessel exclusion zone during whale season.

A spokesperson for the DEW said the department takes all such reports seriously and "when evidence is provided, these matters are investigated by marine park rangers".

The department confirmed that in 2017 and 2018, it issued warnings to operators of two recreational vessels in this regard, but it did not disclose how many incidents were investigated over this time period.

The spokesperson said "no reports involving a commercial tour operator were deemed to constitute an offence."

Rules regarding whales and marine mammals can be found in the National Parks and Wildlife (Protected Animals - Marine Mammal) Regulations 2010.

"Vessels engaged in observing whales are required to stay at least 100m from an adult whale and 300m from a calf," said the spokesperson.

"In the Encounter Bay Restricted Area, all vessels engaged in observing whales must remain at least 300m away to ensure these animals are not disturbed, and to protect the public."

The department will be actively involved in formulating a response to the proposal for a vessel exclusion zone between the Hindmarsh River Mouth and the Murray River Mouth during whale season from May 1 to October 31.

This proposal is currently before the state government and has recently stirred public debate in the region, following a push from Alexandrina Council who are in favour of the move, after Councillors voted 9-2 for the establishment an aforementioned exclusion zone.

State MP and Member for Finniss, David Basham has gone on record as being against the proposal, saying he believes the current restrictions in place are adequate for whale protection.