Letter from San Juan Safaris

Posted November 10, 2018 at 8:30 am by

In the SJ Update mail­bag this morn­ing we have this let­ter to share with you from Bri­an Goodremont at www.sanjuansafaris.com

Pro­posed South­ern Res­i­dent Orca Watch­ing Sus­pen­sion Fails to Address Sci­ence-­ Based Issues: Save the Salmon, Save the Whales 

Head­lines are dom­i­nat­ed by the pro­pos­al to sus­pend ves­sel-­based view­ing of South­ern Res­i­dent killer whales in Wash­ing­ton State waters. There is much infor­ma­tion cir­cu­lat­ing local­ly about what this pro­pos­al means for orcas, local edu­ca­tion­al busi­ness­es, and the Sal­ish Sea marine ecosystem. 

In March 2018, Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee signed an exec­u­tive order to estab­lish imme­di­ate actions to ben­e­fit South­ern Res­i­dent killer whales, and at the same time formed the South­ern Res­i­dent Killer Whale Recov­ery Task Force to devel­op short and long-­-term pro­pos­als for recov­ery of this endan­gered population. 

Bring­ing sev­er­al stake­hold­er groups and experts into a round-­-table dis­cus­sion to cre­ate rec­om­men­da­tions for how to leg­isla­tive­ly pro­ceed, at its incep­tion the task force was her­ald­ed as a poten­tial tri­umph in con­ser­va­tion policy. 

What is this Pro­posed Whale Watch Sus­pen­sion?

This pro­posed rec­om­men­da­tion from the Governor’s task force is not a ban on whale watch­ing in Wash­ing­ton State. 

If enact­ed, this pro­pos­al would sus­pend ves­sel activ­i­ty around one of two eco­types of killer whale found in Wash­ing­ton State waters. This pro­pos­al would only become a law if it goes through the state rule mak­ing process, and then to the desk of Gov­er­nor Inslee. 

Orcas of Wash­ing­ton State
Two dis­tinct pop­u­la­tions of orcas, known as South­ern Res­i­dent killer whales and Bigg’s killer whales inhab­it the inland waters of Wash­ing­ton State. 

The num­ber one dif­fer­ence between these pop­u­la­tions is prey pref­er­ence; South­ern Res­i­dents eat exclu­sive­ly salmon, while Bigg’s killer whales eat marine mam­mals. This pro­posed sus­pen­sion will not lim­it view­ing of Bigg’s killer whales, or oth­er species found in local waters, like hump­back whales, har­bor por­poise, gray whales, Dall’s por­poise, and minke whales. 

Details of the Pro­posed Sus­pen­sion
In its final ren­di­tion, the rec­om­men­da­tion con­tains no details to steer state enforce­ment offi­cials, and no details on whether this sus­pen­sion includes only com­mer­cial whale watch­ing ves­sels, or addi­tion­al­ly includes pri­vate­ly owned boats and com­mer­cial­ly or pri­vate­ly owned human-­-pow­ered water­craft such as kayaks and canoes. 

The pro­posed sus­pen­sion of ves­sel-­based whale watch­ing around South­ern Res­i­dents did not under­go the same rig­or­ous six-­-month process as all oth­er pro­pos­als with­in this recov­ery pack­age. Most notably, the pub­lic did not have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to par­tic­i­pate in the polit­i­cal process sur­round­ing this pro­pos­al as promised by elect­ed officials. 

There are ques­tions about the sig­nif­i­cant break­down in the task force process­es and the extreme lack of polit­i­cal ethics employed to dri­ve the dis­cus­sion and hasty pas­sage of this pro­pos­al. Over­all, there is a lack of sup­port from the public. 

Respect­ful Whale Watch­ing in the Sal­ish Sea
In the last decade the Pacif­ic Whale Watch Asso­ci­a­tion worked with local whale researchers, acoustic sci­en­tists, nation­al, state, and coun­ty gov­ern­ment agen­cies, as well as oth­er local orga­ni­za­tions to pio­neer the most safe and respect­ful wildlife view­ing guide­lines in the world. 

The guide­lines vol­un­tar­i­ly put forth, and then abid­ed by, the Pacif­ic Whale Watch Asso­ci­a­tion exceed the pro­tec­tions afford­ed to the whales by local, state, and fed­er­al laws. 

The Pacif­ic Whale Watch Asso­ci­a­tion active­ly cam­paigned to enact the Be Whale Wise Guide­lines, which are expound­ed in the industry’s Best Prac­tice Guide­lines, into state and fed­er­al law. 

Indi­vid­ual sci­en­tif­ic find­ings can dis­agree, but over­whelm­ing­ly the sci­en­tif­ic body shows con­sen­sus that imple­men­ta­tion of Go-­-S­low Zones and ves­sel lim­its, as detailed in the Be Whale Wise Guide­lines as well as the updat­ed Pacif­ic Whale Watch Asso­ci­a­tion Best Prac­tice Guide­lines, mit­i­gate acoustic impacts of cur­rent whale watch­ing efforts to almost zero, accord­ing to long­time researcher Dr. David Bain. 

San Juan Safaris and oth­er mem­ber com­pa­nies of the Asso­ci­a­tion take great pride in putting wildlife health and well­be­ing first in all oper­a­tions, while edu­cat­ing the pub­lic about impor­tant envi­ron­men­tal issues fac­ing the Pacif­ic Northwest. 

Refo­cus­ing on South­ern Res­i­dent Killer Whale Recov­ery
Over­whelm­ing­ly in recent years, when eco-­-tours encounter orcas, Bigg’s killer whales have been the pre­dom­i­nate eco­type, rather than South­ern Res­i­dent killer whales. 

The Bigg’s killer whale pop­u­la­tion is increas­ing at an aston­ish­ing 5% a year, fueled by a robust pop­u­la­tion of their pre­ferred prey, har­bor seals. Con­verse­ly, sight­ings of South­ern Res­i­dent killer whales have been fur­ther and fur­ther apart as their pre­ferred prey, Chi­nook salmon, have seen an over­all decline in pop­u­la­tion and qual­i­ty along the west coast. 

This pro­posed sus­pen­sion of whale watch activ­i­ties is a mis­di­rec­tion of polit­i­cal and social ener­gy from the most severe issue these whales face in their recov­ery: prey avail­abil­i­ty. With this pro­pos­al, this task force has added its name to an ever-­-grow­ing list of teams, agen­cies, pan­els, and oth­er groups who have been unable fos­ter mean­ing­ful dis­cus­sion and action for Chi­nook salmon recovery.

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One comment...

  1. Real­ly dis­ap­point­ed in Ranker call­ing this bs a “bold” step when it is the wimp­i­est rec­comen­da­tion they could make. Wimpy in the sense that the Whale Watch indus­try is prob­a­bly the least effec­tive lob­by com­pared to ener­gy and agribiz. The whales need more food and experts have long agreed that tak­ing down the 4 Low­er Snake Riv­er dams is the only effectve way to accom­plish that. Maybe if the dams came down it would make sense to lim­it boats of all kinds, watch­ing and fish­ing, around the whales for a few years but oth­er­wise it will not help to lim­it boats and not do some­thing rad­i­cal to increase the salmon pop­u­la­tion. The whales will still starve. Fish­er­men should be on board with this as well, as they will benifit in the long run.

    Comment by Christopher Wilson on November 10, 2018 at 10:19 am

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