by Bill Hoffman
AN Olympic swimmer has denied any wrongdoing and defended her own actions around whales after the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection announced an investigation into an incident off Mooloolaba on Sunday.
The department has warned jet skis were not permitted within 300 metres of whales at any time with breaches subject to fines in excess of $15,000.
A formal investigation was launched Wednesday after the department received photographs taken by a distressed onlooker who had watched what he described as a series of close passes of the pod of whales by a female jet ski rider carrying two female passengers.
A Department of Environment and Heritage Protection spokesperson said after examining the photos it was now formally investigating the matter.
The eyewitness who has provided the Sunshine Coast Daily with the photographs and extensive account of what he observed has confirmed he was contacted by the department on Wednesday afternoon
"Actions such as those alleged are illegal and if caught, the people involved face significant fines," a department spokesperson said.
"Jet skis are not permitted within 300 metres of whales at any time. The maximum penalty for intentionally moving too close to a whale is $15,138 or an on-the-spot fine of $630.75.
"Anyone with information about this particular incident can contact EHP on 1300 130 372 or Wildlife.Management@ehp.qld.gov.au to assist our investigation."
The alleged interaction was witnessed by a number of people whale watching from the Point Cartwright viewing platform.
Swimmer Taylor McKeown, who won a silver at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro last year, was in charge of a jet ski off Mooloolaba on Sunday with two passengers on board.
Today she has defended her actions saying she felt she was more than educated enough to know her distances and to not cause harm.
"Anyone who knows me knows my passion for wildlife," she said.
"Having professionals look at it is the best thing that can happen."
Ms McKeown said the only time she had the jet ski motor on was when she needed to manoeuvre to face oncoming waves so that her craft didn't capsize or to get out of the way.
She said a calf that was "extremely tail slappy" had approached forcing her to get out of the way because it was dangerous.
"We were literally floating in the water," she said. "They got closer and we sat there motionless. If whales approach that's their decision."
Ms McKeown said at this time of year if you sit in the water five out of 10 times a whale would approach.
She said she had been so excited by the experience that she had shared a video of the incident.
Photographs taken from Point Cartwright and examined by department officers appear to show a 20-minute long encounter with three whale pods involving a jet ski with three females on board.
The man, who has asked not to be named said he was one of numerous onlookers at Point Cartwright watching whales pass the headland, when he claims a jet ski with three occupants on board appeared to be close to the whale pods.
The man said his photos showed the jet ski immediately adjacent to the whales.
He said the behaviour had continued for about 20 minutes.
"We witnessed repeated interactions with whales and calves by a jet ski as I photographed the incident," he said.
"The jet ski was ridden by three people and my photos clearly show the registration number which I verified as a private owner.
"I managed to follow the movements of the jet ski after the incident and observed they returned to a beach tent on Mooloolaba Beach.
"After a period of time the riders then returned to the jet ski and proceeded to enter the Mooloolaba Harbour. This is where I managed to get the attached close-up photo of the riders. I lost track after they entered the harbour."