The captain of a $3.5 million yacht is under fire for allegedly steering his vessel dangerously close to a killer whale pod off the B.C. coast, but the veteran mariner insists he was following the rules.

Witnesses who snapped photos of the encounter claim the 86-foot Amnesia IV yacht came within 10 metres of the pod last Thursday evening near Quadra Island, then followed the whales closely.

Quadra resident Gary Falck told CTV News some of the cetaceans appeared to be in distress due to the vessel’s proximity.

“This boat came steaming from the Cortes [Island] area straight to the pod. It was way out of line,” Falck said. “We were trying to signal them. You know, ‘move away, move away.’ If I had an air horn I would have used it.”

Multiple neighbours filed animal harassment complaints with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, whose guidelines require boats to keep at least 100 metres away from whales at all times.

But the Amnesia IV’s captain, Jonathan Dunn, insists he followed the rules. He estimated he was about 275 metres away from the pod, based on a reading on the yacht’s computer that indicated his distance from the shore.

“We kept that distance the entire duration of our interaction with the whales,” Dunn said.

“I’m not making any money here by taking people out to see whales. It was just a chance sighting, we were with them for 20 minutes and I maintained proper due care and attention at all times.”

Dunn argued the photos submitted to the DFO were taken from a high vantage point, which skews the perspective and makes it more difficult to determine his distance from the whales. He showed CTV News a picture taken from onboard the yacht that suggests the boat was much further away.

He also said he grew up on the Gulf Islands, and his family was part of a watch program that helped report dangerous whale watching boats off the coast.

“It’s personally hurtful to me and professionally hurtful to me to have the word ‘harassment’ bandied about when it comes to me. They’ve chosen to come after somebody who’s spent his whole life revering these creatures,” Dunn said.

The DFO is responding to the complaints, and has interviewed Dunn and others who were on the yacht last Thursday, but has not launched an official investigation.

“Fisheries officers are making further enquiries to determine next steps. Based on what comes out of this preliminary enquiry the next steps would be either that it was determined that no violation had taken place, or to launch an official investigation into the matter,” spokeswoman Leri Davies said in an email statement.

Anyone who is concerned about a marine mammal incident can report it to the DFO 24 hours a day by calling 1-800-465-4336.

With a report from CTV British Columbia’s Jon Woodward