Whale-watching is popular human sport as well as decent business, and a pod of humpback whales are happy to oblige all, making frequent appearances in Monterey Bay near Santa Cruz. But the whales on display are creating a "circus" atmosphere, where some strict rules for protecting the giant sea mammals' safety are not being observed, officials say.
Harassment has become an increasing problem in the waters off of Santa Cruz, which are part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. At least one boat, straying closer than the 100-yard barrier between man and mammal required by law, has been damaged, with others overturned, according to sanctuary superintendent Paul Michael.
The problem may not be harm to the whales, but the whales harming people, according to Kenny Stagnaro, who runs a whale-watching cruise line in Santa Cruz. "It's like a circus event out there," he told the Santa Cruz Sentinel. "The danger for people is incredible. A lot of people don't understand the power of these animals. With a tail throw they could break a kayak or kill someone ... It's just not safe."
That said, Stagnaro's business is booming: he was booked up for tours over the weekend, according to the newspaper.
Kayaks were nearly sold out in town. One kayaker said a whale got within 10 feet.