WA Bill Supports Orcas' Need for More Space from Boaters
Wednesday, February 8, 2023
Whales are disturbed by vessel noise, but a measure in Olympia would provide a greater buffer for the endangered orcas in Puget Sound.
The legislation increases the distance that recreational boaters must maintain from Southern Resident killer whales, from 400 yards to a thousand yards. That puts the distance in line with whale-watching vehicles.
Joe Gaydos, science director of the SeaDoc Society at the University of Califonia Davis, signed a letter of support for the bill - along with other scientists and organizations. He said making distances the same for all boats would be beneficial.
"People see those big whale-watch boats, they see the name on the side," said Gaydos. "'Okay, I cannot get any closer than that boat.' Those whale-watch boats are providing a guideline for the public, who is not as educated as the whale watchers."
Opponents to some of the bill's language have expressed concern that navigating some parts of Puget Sound could be difficult if Southern Resident orcas need a thousand-yard distance.
The measure is scheduled for an executive session on Thursday in the state Senate.
Lovel Pratt, marine protection and policy director for the Friends of the San Juans, said a recent study showed orcas need a healthy distance in order to forage for food.
"The female orcas, when they're pregnant or when they're nursing their young, they have to consume even more food to do that adequately," said Pratt. "And they were particularly impacted by the vessels when they conducted these studies - even more so than the male Southern Residents."
Julie Watson, killer whale policy lead for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, noted that there are only 73 whales left in the Southern Resident population.
"These whales have a lot of pressure on them and their numbers have just dwindled," said Watson. "So, we're trying to save this iconic species that's really core to the people of the Pacific Northwest, and the people of Washington."
She added that people can keep up-to-date online on current laws for viewing whales, at 'BeWhaleWise.org.'
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