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Noisy Navy is letting off blasts too close to orcas, Victoria whale watchers say

Fri, Aug 4: There were some tense moments off Victoria this week as a group of whale watchers found themselves in the line of fire as a Canadian Navy crew conducted blasting in the area. Neetu Garcha has more on the ensuing standoff.

A whale watching tour in the waters off southern Vancouver Island turned into a heated confrontation between a boat captain and the Royal Canadian Navy on Thursday morning.

This after loud military blasts went off near a pod of endangered southern resident killer whales.

Coverage of orcas on Globalnews.ca:

“They’ve just come back in and are looking for food right now, they haven’t been in for a while,” SpringTide Whale Watching captain Mark Williams said.

“These guys are in an acoustic environment so if we hear that and feel that in our chest, you can only imagine what the whales would have heard.

“The huge explosion went off, my passengers jumped out of their skin. I actually felt my chest move.”

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Williams and other witnesses said it happened on Thursday at around 10 a.m. near the Bentinck Island south of Victoria, where there’s a demolition range that’s used by the Royal Canadian Navy.

“Despite the presence of the killer whales for some time in the passage by Bentinck Island, they still continued blasting; they did cease for a while but there was a period of time where it still continued… when it shouldn’t have,” SpringTide Whale Watching owner Dan Kukat said.

“We’ve had a tremendously positive relationship with the Canadian Navy, they’ve been very responsive. We see this just as a slip.”

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A Navy spokesperson told Global News that safety protocols were followed to ensure no people or animals entered the demolition firing safety range.

“We have two safety boats that have binoculars, range finders and prior to any firings, the safety boats report back to the officer in charge informing him that there are no people or marine mammals or wildlife within 1,000 yards, prior to them firing the demolition charges,” Andre Bard with Naval Fleet School Pacific said.

Bard said the explosions take place on land and are for training purposes, adding they only take place during windows of time when studies have shown there would be less disturbance to wildlife habitats in the area.

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READ MORE: A pod of 6 orcas chases sea lion near Bowyer Island in Howe Sound

“Multiple studies have been executed showing the safety ranges that we are utilizing today will not harm marine wildlife,” Bard said.

Bard said the Navy is open to looking at safety precautions currently in place.

He also said the Navy plans to engage with whale watching companies.

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