Australians are fond of their whales and to protect them from harassment they require swimmers to remain at least 100 feet away from the cetaceans or risk being fined nearly $10,000.
So authorities are taking very seriously a report that a teenager climbed onto and attempted to ride a southern right whale near Albany in Western Australia.
“Disturbance or physical contact with them, either deliberate or accidental, not only distresses the whales, but also could result in a tragic outcome for a foolhardy person,” Australia’s Department of Environment and Conservation, said in a statement.
A witness reportedly photographed Friday’s incident and authorities are pursuing leads in the hope of catching the whale rider.
Liz Grant, a media liaison for the DEC, said officers expect imminent delivery of the photograph, which will not be released to the public until the investigation is complete. When asked if this could be a hoax Grant said the witness seemed reliable and that there has been enough discussion about the incident “on the Facebook network” to convince officers the case was worth investigating.
Southern right whales, which can measure 60 feet and weigh 80 tons, migrate along southern Australia from June through October. They swim close to shore to let their calves rest.
Mike Shephard, a district manager for the DEC, said the agency is cautioning beachgoers not to try a similar stunt.
“If you are in the way of a tail slap or when it breaches, you are unlikely to survive,” Shephard said in the statement.
The southern right whale was once hunted to near-extinction but has slowly recovered and is not considered an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
— Southern right whale image courtesy of Wikipedia