well so says the Western Australian Department of Parks and Wildlife!!
In determining this decision a local Western Australian tourism company, Jurien Bay Charters, has been forced to cease providing interactive tours to Essex Rocks. I have previously posted about the wonderful experience diving and playing with sea lions here. This experience is one I have been lucky enough to have done a second time and was looking forward to another this summer. But now, no more.
Below is some dot points provided by Jurien Bay Charters stating their disagreement and reasons why they should be given an exception to the licence.
• Firstly, we have tried on many occasions within the Department of Conservation (DEC) for a firm reason why an operator cannot offer in water activities or interaction with sea lions. Some reasons given were just by assumption. Examples – 1. You cannot have a license as great white sharks feed on them. 2. Sea lions are endangered. 3. Sea lions attack. 4. It’s against the law. It seemed that nobody in the department could clearly state why! After many phone calls and questions finally Chris Phillips (Wildlife Officer, DEC, Jurien Bay) produced a letter stating the changes dated in 2001. (Prior to 2001, operators could offer in water activities with mammals). So the rules changed because there were 3 attacks report by sea lions on Carnac. (Carnac island is where the bulls reside and are known to be territorial) The letter does not state how the attacks occurred. Were the humans attacked in water? Or was the attack on land? Were the sea lions feeling threatened by the height of a human or was the sea lion claiming territory? Many questions! But the big one is “under what circumstance did a sea lion attack?”
• We are aware that permission is granted for in water activities with dolphins, and the 2 operating companies in Rockingham and Bunbury have a temporary exemption attached to the same licenses that we hold. In fact, a dolphin in the water at Ellensbrook, Margaret River, attacked a man recently. The dolphin broke the man’s forearm and he said, “while it was almost unheard of, he had learned of two similar cases in the state since; one man has broken ribs from a dolphin swimming into him and another was injured when a dolphin landed on his legs”. A shark attacked a tour guide at the Rockingham Dolphin Wild Encounter 2.5 years ago. (Elyse Frankcom), a shark attacked a tour guide in Coral Bay in January 2012.
• We believe that we should have the same ‘rights’ as the Rockingham and Bunbury Operators, we understand the risks and take measures to ensure at all times the safety of all staff and customers, just as I am sure the Rockingham Wild Encounters do, though they had a staff member attacked by a shark.
• DEC feed dolphins in Monkey Mia; this is in breach of conduct to the Wildlife Conservation ACT. (Major inconsistency here).
• Recreational boaters have different guidelines on approaching mammals with in water activities. (This is in fact, discrimination).
• On land tour operators that visit DEC recreational parks such as ‘The Pinnacles’ are granted permission to allow their customers out of the bus or vehicle to walk around. We can foresee the same dangers, for example, a snake bite or humans
at risk of a kangaroo or emu attack or customers may trip on a rock and injure themselves. (Inconsistency here).
• We can foresee many dangers whilst swimming with the whale’s sharks in Exmouth, however this activity has been granted permission despite the obvious dangers. DEC actually manages the whale sharks however, whale sharks are fish and DEC only manages mammals – flora and fauna. (Inconsistency here)
• There are many dangers in life not just the one activity – swimming with sea lions!
• Our presence at the island of Essex Rock in fact keeps the sea lions and humans safe. We often find recreational boaters visiting the island – often walking on the island or swimming very close to the shore. We inform the recreational boaters of the dangers and warn them to stay in the water at all times at shoulder depth. (Recreational boat users can do what they like)
• Wildlife Conservation (Closed Season for Marine Mammals) Notice 1998, for recreational boaters
8 Swimming with marine animals
(1) Subject to subclause (2) and the Shark Bay dolphin notice, a person who is in the water may approach-
(a) a whale, dolphin or dugong to a distance of 30m but no closer; or
(b) any other marine mammal to a distance of 10m but no closer.
(2) If a marine mammal approaches a person who is in the water so as to put the person in breach of subclause (1), the person must move away from the mammal until the person is no longer in breach of that subclause.
Why can’t we do this? (inconsistency here)
• We believe that the Wildlife Conservation Act for commercial operators is out-dated and needs review.
We believe this
• We provide a controlled, safe environment for people to experience these mammals in their natural habitat.
• We believe that breeding islands for the sea lions should not be interfered with. The island that we attend is a haul out island and it is not known as a breeding island.
• We have no reports of any attacks and this business has been operating for 15 years, businesses like ours have operating in South Australia for 25 – 30 years.
• Sea lions are under threat when a human is standing on land and this is where the sea lion may feel threatened – whilst in the water they are not threatened as they have the swimming ability advantage.
• As we are visiting the island most days we are aware of any mammal that is in distress such as – a hook in its mouth, been injured by propellers, caught in rope or nets. This information is immediately reported to authorities.
• We educate humans about the sea lions and we believe that awareness will go a long way towards their conservation.
• Breeding islands should not be interfered with.
• Unlike the Dolphin swimming operators we do not chase or herd the mammals (dolphins). We anchor our vessel and allow the sea lions to visit us if they choose.
In short there are many operators doing the swimming with sea lions in water activity. A simple Google search will show this. We would like to see this regulated and a commercial operators licence issued and all operators working in close conjunction with DEC, just as the dolphin swim licensed operators have been issued with.