The orcas we’ve been seeing in local waters lately are transient killer whales, but the Southern Residents are expected soon. When they get here, some advocates want to be sure they’re not hounded by whale-watching boats – especially considering three of the endangered whales are pregnant. Today those advocates, including West Seattle-based The Whale Trail, are issuing a challenge to whale-watching operators to take this pledge:
On behalf of my company, I pledge to increase protection for the Southern Resident orcas and give the pregnant orcas in all three pods the best possible chance of having healthy calves, by giving them more space and quieter waters to find food and communicate with each other. Between now and September 2021:
• We will stay 1/2 nautical mile (1,000 yards) away from the southern residents.
• We will focus our tours on other ecotypes of killer whales and other wildlife, and will not intentionally plan or route trips to view them.
• If we encounter southern residents incidentally while viewing other whales, we will slow down (as Washington State law requires) to reduce our vessel noise, but will not approach or follow them.
• If we encounter southern residents incidentally while in transit, we will slow down (as State law requires) and not approach or intentionally follow them while continuing to transit. If it is unsafe to maintain a 1/2 nautical mile distance while transiting we will maintain the distances required by State law.
See the full letter here. The problems caused by noise, particularly from whale-watching vessels, was discussed at The Whale Trail’s February meeting – more than 100 operating in the region, morning through night. The Southern Resident population is down to 72, barely above its historic low, and advocates fear that further losses could put this species on an irreversible path to extinction.