October 19, 2018 / 4:30 PM / 10 months ago

Testy humpback whale chases away watchers who get too close

OFF REUNION ISLAND (Reuters) - Divers off the Indian Ocean island of Reunion have been warned: Give the whales some space or expect a fin for your troubles.

The French overseas territory is one of the rare sites where swimming with whales is allowed, but local conservationists are unhappy that divers are not following the rules and the whales are fighting back.

One agitated humpback female, swimming with her calf, was seen on Wednesday swiping at encroaching divers with her fin, which can measure up to 18 feet (5.5 meters).

“It’s a clear signal and coming from a 30 ton animal, it can result in fatal accidents,” said Olivier Hoarau, a conservationist from the CEDTM research and protection center dubbed the “tranquillity brigade”.

The brigade, financed by local authorities, was set up last year to protect local sea life, including the 230 humpback whales that have been counted this year, amid an increase in tourist numbers.

Hoarau regularly participates in patrols in the area which swoop in on divers who break the rules about swimming near the whales. He said that since June, three quarters of the 500 boats he has approached have broken the rules.

Editing by Patrick Johnston and Gareth Jones

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