Letter: Orca Nonprofit Supports New State Whale Watching Rules

Posted December 22, 2020 at 5:00 am by

By Don­na Sand­strom, Whale Trail direc­tor and for­mer mem­ber of Gov­er­nor Inslee’s Orca Recov­ery Task Force

Last Fri­day, Wash­ing­ton Depart­ment of Fish and Wildlife Com­mis­sion­ers approved rules for com­mer­cial whale-watch­ing that will make it eas­i­er for the endan­gered south­ern res­i­dents to for­age and rear their young in these next few crit­i­cal years.

Com­mer­cial whale-watch­ing on the south­ern res­i­dents will be sus­pend­ed from Octo­ber to June, and lim­it­ed whale-watch­ing (4 hours a day) will be allowed July through September.

While it’s not the year-round sus­pen­sion the orcas need, it is a strong step towards reduc­ing noise and dis­tur­bance from the sta­tus quo. There is a role for sus­tain­able boat-based whale-watch­ing. It must be sus­tain­able for the orcas, first.

Over the past decade, while the orcas declined, the num­ber of com­mer­cial ves­sels in the Sal­ish Sea more than dou­bled and their rev­enue near­ly tripled.

In 2018 there were 54 com­pa­nies in the Sal­ish Sea oper­at­ing more than 120 ves­sels. They fol­low the orcas year-round, and up to 12 hours a day in the peak sum­mer months. Cumu­la­tive expo­sure to noise and dis­tur­bance at these lev­els neg­a­tive­ly impacts for­ag­ing abil­i­ty, social cohe­sion and repro­duc­tive capacity.

J, K and L pods have thrived in these waters for tens of thou­sands of years. In one human gen­er­a­tion, we have brought them to the edge of extinc­tion, from threats that are all human-caused: lack of salmon, tox­in accu­mu­la­tions and ves­sel noise and disturbance.

The threats are inter­con­nect­ed, each wors­en­ing the oth­er. Mul­ti­ple stud­ies show that noise and salmon avail­abil­i­ty are inex­tri­ca­bly linked. Reduc­ing noise and dis­tur­bance isn’t the only thing we can or should do, but it’s one of the few tools in our kit that will make a dif­fer­ence in the near-term. With two new calves in the pop­u­la­tion, there is no time to wait.

An eco­nom­ics report con­firmed that avoid­ing south­ern res­i­dents will have no impact on com­mer­cial oper­a­tors’ eco­nom­ic via­bil­i­ty. They have devel­oped a thriv­ing indus­try watch­ing oth­er species, and south­ern res­i­dents now com­prise just ten per­cent of their view­ing opportunities. 

More than 4,000 pub­lic com­ments sup­port­ed these rules or stronger, com­pared to 208 for the sta­tus quo. These reflect a grow­ing wave of aware­ness about the harm­ful impacts of noise and dis­tur­bance on these acoustic ani­mals and the need for a pre­cau­tion­ary approach to man­ag­ing our impacts on this frag­ile population.

Thank you to Gov­er­nor Inslee for his lead­er­ship, and to every­one who had a hand in this out­come, from the task force to the leg­is­la­ture to the thou­sands of peo­ple who com­ment­ed. This is a sea change for the orcas, and a wel­come start to a brighter, qui­eter new year.

You can support the San Juan Update by doing business with our loyal advertisers, and by making a one-time contribution or a recurring donation.

Categories: Animals, Letters, Wildlife

No comments yet. Be the first!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By submitting a comment you grant the San Juan Update a perpetual license to reproduce your words and name/web site in attribution. Inappropriate, irrelevant and contentious comments may not be published at an admin's discretion. Your email is used for verification purposes only, it will never be shared.

Receive new post updates: Entries (RSS)
Receive followup comments updates: RSS 2.0