Juneau Whale Watch, a local whale watching tour company, has paid a total of $11,907 to NOAA Fisheries for violations of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act for two separate incidents, both of which occurred in August 2013.
NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement issued the notices of violations and assessments to Juneau Whale Watch following reports of harassment incidents from witnesses. Those reports were supported with ample video and photographic evidence. Both incidents involved the motor vessel M/V L'OOK.
On August 3, 2013, the M/V L'OOK was seen harassing a pod of orcas by chasing the whales with the vessel and causing the animals to change their behavior. The penalty was $4,480.
On August 10, 2013, eyewitnesses reported the company violated the 100-yard exclusionary zone around endangered humpback whales by allowing personnel to use stand-up paddle boards to get near the whales, including a mother-calf pair. The penalty for that incident was $8,750.
Because the company promptly accepted responsibility for the violations and agreed to pay the penalty amount in a timely manner, the fines were reduced by 10-percent to $4,032 and $7,875.
"Whale watching is a highlight for visitors and residents alike in Southeast Alaska, and an important part of the local economy," said Logan Gregory, acting deputy director of NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement. "We want to thank witnesses for coming forward and reporting these violations."
NOAA Fisheries is introducing a new, voluntary program to Juneau for the 2015 season called Whale SENSE. One goal of the program is to recognize commercial whale watching operations committed to a higher standard of whale watching by adhering to Whale SENSE principles. Juneau Whale Watch is one of five companies participating in the program this year.
"For a growing whale watching company, 2013 was an educational year for us," said Serene Hutchinson, General Manager of Juneau Whale Watch. "We are committed to providing our passengers with the best possible viewing experience, while at the same time providing our captains and crew with thorough training. It is vital that we foster respect and stewardship for these magnificent whales. Whether on duty or off, we want to demonstrate, at all times, our commitment to whale conservation. We are excited to participate in NOAA Fisheries Whale SENSE program in its first year here in Juneau." See the Whale SENSE website and NOAA Fisheries' marine mammal viewing guidelines for more information.
To report a violation at any time 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, call the NOAA Fisheries Enforcement hotline at (800) 853-1964.