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Jet Skis and Endangered Species

Riding your jetski at high speeds on the water is exciting. But imagine the excitement experienced by Brynjar Thor Gunnarsson of Iceland and his friend when they spotted several humpback whales on their way back home. Naturally, they decided to go and take a closer look and Gunarsson captured the event with a camera on the helmet he was wearing. Problem is, he seriously injured an endangered species.

237716-a80a0a92-33ac-11e3-af60-3b458a25efb9Gunnarsson’s video shows him travelling along the water at a fast speed, constantly panning the camera to the right while he attempts to spot the whales’ exact location in the water. But when he turned to look ahead of the vehicle, a humpback whale’s large arced back emerges from the water’s depths and Gunnarsson doesn’t have enough time to get out of the way.

Despite a small attempt to swerve out of the way, Gunnarsson collides with the humpback whale and continues driving.

How does this become international news? Like millions of us in this information age, Gunnarsson posts his video footage online. He commented that he and his friend came across a group of humpback whales on their way home and that “one came up right in front of my jet ski and I hit it. No harm done though!”

No harm done? Yikes! If he’d run over a human, the person could have been seriously injured or killed. Dr. Conor Ryan, a sightings and strandings officer with the Herbridean Whale and Dolphin Trust called the video “disturbing.” Ryan believes irresponsible driving led to the collision and that the humpback whale more than likely sustained serious injuries given the speed of the collision. Standard practice and the law in most countries is to slow down and steer clear when in the vicinity of endangered or protected species like humpback whales.

While humpback whale sightings on a jet ski outing isn’t the norm, consider the other protected species you might encounter on your next outing. In Florida, certain waters may be home to manatees and hitting one with a jet ski could cost you thousands in fines and even jail time. Riding your jet ski in shallow water, whether along the coast of Florida or in the Midwest, stirs up the bottom and suspends sediments which limit light penetration and deplete oxygen. This in turn affects fish and bird feeding. This is why it’s best to limit riding your jet ski in shallow water, opting to ride instead in main channels. Keeping your jet ski at idle speed will help.

If you plan to ride your jet ski in coastal areas, you should also be aware of low tide. When the tide goes out valuable fish nurseries in sea grass beds and other delicate vegetation are exposed. You should also avoid coming into contact with kelp forests found close to shore which support fish, invertebrates, sea urchins and sea otters. If you have to ride near coral, don’t use an anchor and take caution when diving to avoid coming in contact. Grass marshes, whether in fresh or salt water coastal areas or rivers, should be avoided since nesting birds, frogs, turtles, snakes and alligators could be hidden in the thickets.

Let’s use Gunnarsson as an example of what not to do on your next jet ski outing. A responsible Jet Ski driver rides at controlled speeds so he or she can see any animals ahead, abides by no-wake zones to prevent shoreline erosion and makes him or herself aware of any endangered species possibly found in their riding area. Man and beasts can share the water as long as we respect one another.