FOLLOWUP: Local legislators co-sponsor two bills to keep boats further away from endangered orcas

(November 2022 photo via Twitter, by @i8ipod)

Two bills to keep boats further away from endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales are making their way through the State Legislature, with West Seattle legislators among the co-sponsors. The bills both seek to keep boats further away from the endangered orcas, as recommended by a state report noted here last month. The State Senate version, SB 5371 – with co-sponsors including 34th District Sen. Joe Nguyen of West Seattle – got a hearing today in Olympia, before the Senate Water, Natural Resources, and Parks Committee. Here’s video via TVW (when you click “play” it’ll start with the orca bill, an hour in):

Among those testifying was West Seattleite Donna Sandstrom, executive director of The Whale Trail and member of Governor Inslee’s task force on orcas. Here’s part of what she told the senators:

We fully support this bill, which builds on the progress the State has made, and extends it based on the science we now know. A 1,000 yard setback will make it easier for orcas, especially females, to find and catch their prey. This matters not just for individual health, but because when orcas catch a salmon they share it. Mothers share food with their offspring. Older males share food with their mothers. Vessel noise and disturbance makes all of that harder.

There are seven calves under five years old in the population, and five of those are female, including Tahlequah’s newest calf. The future of the population is already here. Their ability to survive and thrive into adulthood depends on the actions that we take today. One perimeter for all boaters will be easier to communicate, comply with and enforce. Apps like Whale Alert can help boaters know when southern residents are near, and how far away is 1,000 yards.

Please advance this bill and give J, K and L pods the space they need to eat, so they have a chance to go on. It’s as simple, and as necessary, as that. Future generations may not know our names, but if we get this right there there will still be southern residents to watch, and be awed by. On the long road to recover the whales, this is the next step, and Washington State is leading the way.

The House version of the bill, HB 1145 – with co-sponsors including 34th District State Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon of West Seattle – is in the House Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources, and Parks Committee, with no hearing scheduled yet. “This is the first step on the journey from bill to law,” Sandstrom tells WSB. “We will need everyone’s help to ensure it passes this session. Here’s how people can support: Contact your legislators and let them know you support these bills. Contact by phone, email, or comment directly on the bill.” West Seattle legislators are Sen. Nguyen, Rep. Fitzgibbon, and newly elected Rep. Emily Alvarado.

4 Replies to "FOLLOWUP: Local legislators co-sponsor two bills to keep boats further away from endangered orcas"

  • Ws mom January 31, 2023 (6:51 am)

    Way to go!

  • waikikigirl January 31, 2023 (7:47 am)

      Interesting study from Hawaii.    study-whales-could-play-crucial-role-fighting-climate-change

  • herongrrrl January 31, 2023 (10:07 pm)

    Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well intentioned but unfortunately meaningless fluff.  WDFW can’t enforce the current boating laws for whales at all, so even if it passes this won’t make the tiniest bit of difference for the orcas.  Peer-reviewed science demonstrates that the presence of well behaved whale watching vessels significantly decreases violations of distance and speed rules among recreational boats (  There’s a lot of hate out there for commercial whale watching, but the crews I have known are devoted to the whales’ well-being and take active measures to protect them from other vessel traffic and military operations while also educating others who can become advocates for the whales themselves.I’ve spent a lot of hours on the water and I understand the reality of how recreational boaters behave out there.  Most of them have no idea how to accurately judge distance over water even if they want to do the right thing.  Few of them keep appropriate watch at all times in all directions to know if whales are nearby.  I have seen boats hit whales, I have seen hair-raisingly close calls, and I have on numerous occasions tried to get WDFW to respond to violations in progress, which they can’t do without a LOT more boats and enforcement officers. As a responsible sailor AND a lifelong orca advocate, I would love to see some science-based rules put in place and WDFW given adequate resources to enforce them.  This bill does none of that.And just a reminder that Southern Resident Orcas need more Chinook salmon! Keep pushing your electeds for action on that front, too! 

    • Donna February 1, 2023 (9:37 am)

      Herongrrrl – thanks for voicing your concerns. here’s a little bit more about why we think this bill is so well-supported and necessary.

      In 2021 NOAA Fisheries published studies showing that female southern resident orcas stop foraging when vessels approach closer than 400 yards, and that all southern residents are less successful at foraging, and exhibit energy-costly behavioral changes like diving more steeply, when vessels approach closer than 1.6 KM (Holt et al 2021)

      What this means is that under the current rules, even boaters who are obeying the law and staying 300 yard away from SRKW are making it harder for them to find and catch their prey, and the impact is more pronounced with females.

      We agree that enforcement will be key, especially in the central Sound during fall and winter. One perimeter for all boaters will be easier to model, and enforce. We also want to make it easy for all boaters to know when SRKW are near, and how far away is 1,000 yards.

      The bill achieves parity by requiring recreational boaters to maintain the same distance as commercial operators. It also reduces fees for commercial operators, who are not opposing this bill.

      The chief benefit of this bill is that it will give southern residents a better chance to find food. That matters when prey is abundant and even more when it is not.

      Of course we need to keep taking bold actions to increase salmon and reduce toxins too. This is just one tool in our kit to recover the orcas. Why wouldn’t we use it?

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