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Whale-riding ‘fool’ and selfie death stir emotions

July 27, 2018 Headline News No Comments Email Email

The sea around Sydney and the NSW coast attracts plenty of fans in winter as well as summer – but two whale-related events in the past week, one involving a tragic fatality and the other an “irresponsible fool”, have sparked dismay.

A teenage Mormon missionary from the US slipped and fell to his death from a cliff as he took a selfie while whale watching with a group of friends in southern Sydney.

Gavin Paul Zimmerman, 19, from Utah (the US state known for its strong historic association with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or Mormons) fell from the cliffs at Cape Solander in Kurnell.

The church said Zimmerman had been with a group of Mormon missionaries when the tragedy happened, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. Despite best attempts by water police, the Westpac Rescue Helicopter and paramedics, Zimmerman died at the scene.

Zimmerman became the second man to die in a cliff fall at Cape Solander in just six weeks. Last month, a man aged in his 30s died after falling from the same cliff while taking photos of whales (though not necessarily selfies). See: Did whale-watch photos lead to man’s death in Sydney?

The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) says Cape Solander is one of the best humpback whale-watching spots in Sydney. June and July are the best months to watch the whales as they migrate north.

MEANWHILE, authorities are asking surfers to help them identify a “fool” who climbed on the back of a Southern Right whale while it rested with its newborn calf at Puckeys Beach near Wollongong – not long after a drone was used to buzz the whale.

Whale and calf

The NPWS wants to speak to three surfers. The Illawarra Mercury quoted NSW Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton labelling the man an “irresponsible fool”.

Southern Right whales, the species mercilessly hunted in the 19th and 20th centuries, are so rare that as few as 300 are thought to remain in Australian waters.

The mother and calf had been making their way down the NSW coast slowly, taking shelter along the way back to their feeding grounds in the Southern Ocean, when they ran into the drone and the rogue surfer.

“This idiot not only endangered the mother and the calf and breached regulations, but he also put himself in danger,” Upton said.

“Whales are wild creatures and a mother will protect her calf. This man is lucky he was not seriously hurt. Southern Right whales can weigh in at 80 tonnes and when they decide to move they can be lethal to people and boats that are too close.”

Cape Solander, Kamay Botany Bay National Park. NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. Photo: Andy Richards

Boats are not allowed within 100 metres of a whale and 300 metres if the whale is with a calf, the Illawarra Mercury noted. Swimmers and board riders must not enter the water within 100 metres of a whale and must actively move away from whales. Drones are not permitted closer than 100 metres from a whale. A fine of AUD 3300 applies.

Written by Peter Needham

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