COURTENAY, B.C. – Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO)  officials believe the grey whale that has been in the Courtenay River since yesterday has left the river area.

“The whale might still may be in the estuary, which is great, or in the surrounding area, but he’s left the river area, which is kind of the high risk area just because of the change in water level and the current,” said DFO Pacific Marine Mammal coordinator Paul Cottrell.

Cottrell said the DFO is confident that the whale is no longer in the river.

The whale spouts off water in the Courtenay River in the rivermouth on the morning of December 19th, 2018. Photo by James Wood/98.9 The Goat/Vista Radio

Officials plan to fly over the estuary tomorrow to try to locate the animal.

“The flight’s not specifically for the grey whale but we’re going to tack it onto either the start of the flight or the end of the flight to see if it’s in the estuary,” Cottrell told the newsroom.

The DFO reminds boaters to stay at least 100 metres clear of whales. Disturbing a whale is prohibited under marine mammal regulations.

“All marine mammal Cetaceanss are pretty well protected under the new marine mammal ‘regs,'” Cottrell said, “but we’ll be keeping an eye out for this (whale) and we’re just hoping it doesn’t come back to the river which is a high-risk area for the animal.”

Cottrell isn’t sure why the whale found its way into the river.

“He was in the estuary to likely forage in the area,” he noted.

Canada’s Marine Mammal Regulations were updated in July 2018.

No person shall approach a marine mammal to, or to attempt to,

– feed it;

– swim with it or interact with it;

– move it or entice or cause it to move from the immediate vicinity in which it is found;

– separate it from members of its group or go between it and a calf;

–  trap it or its group between a vessel and the shore or between a vessel and one or more other vessels; or

–  tag or mark it.

Minimum approach distances for vessels:

– 200 metres for all Killer Whales (in Pacific waters);

– 200 metres for whale, dolphin and porpoise species with calves or in resting position; and

– 100 metres for all other whales, dolphins and porpoises.

If you a sight a whale, report it to the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network at 1-866-472-9663.