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Close Call By Boaters Watching Whales In San Francisco Bay Raises Concerns

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- A close call between a sailboat and a humpback whale in the San Francisco Bay this past weekend has experts calling for boaters to be more careful around the endangered animals.

The near miss was recorded on video on Saturday, September 7, near the Golden Gate Bridge.

Crew members on board the whale-watching vessel called the "Kitty Kat" spotted the tall spout of the whale and eased close, with a safe distance.

As passengers watched, two sailboats got close to the whale. One of them appeared to get within 10 feet.

"They definitely were very irresponsible in the way that they moved through this area," said Michael Pierson, a naturalist for San Francisco Whale Tours who was onboard the Kitty Kat at the time.

His voice can be heard yelling at the sailboat's crew to take evasive action. Pierson said sailboat operators are required to stop and float when they see a whale.

And if they didn't see it, Pierson says the sailor should have heard radio traffic warning about a whale in the area. Or they should have seen the spout or the other boats that had stopped to watch at a safe distance, he said.

"Unfortunately, they did not hear those warnings or heed those warnings and got dangerously close to colliding with this whale," Pierson said.

"My first reaction is, 'Yikes, that was awfully close,'" said Steve Jones from the Center for Biological Diversity, an advocacy group that works to "secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction," according to the center's web site.

"Whether the sailor could have avoided it is hard to tell from that video but certainly, federal law calls for boaters and individuals to keep their distance from marine mammals," Jones said. He noted that the Marine Mammal Protection Act requires boats to give a 300 foot buffer to whales.

"It's a beautiful thing to see whales here in the San Francisco Bay," Jones added. "I think that's something we all want to see. But there's a lot of boat traffic here. We need to be very careful."

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