Support Stricter Whale-Watching Regulations For Endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales
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We the undersigned support a suspension of whale-watching on the critically endangered Southern Resident killer whale (SRKW) population until it recovers, consistent with the mission of the Department of Fish and Wildlife to “…preserve, protect and perpetuate fish, wildlife and ecosystems while providing sustainable fish and wildlife recreational and commercial opportunities.”
Multiple studies confirm that vessel noise and disturbance interfere with these endangered whales’ ability to forage and communicate. With salmon runs in severe decline, commercial whale-watching is an unsustainable and harmful activity for the SRKW population.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife published two options for its draft rules for commercial viewing of these whales. Both options A & B include intentional and unnecessary disturbance of the whales during their peak feeding season (July-September) in their core habitats. We strongly reject Option B, which expands intentional disturbance on this critically endangered species to include months when the whales feed in Puget Sound (October - November), and periods when they are known to be nutritionally stressed. We encourage you to go further and suspend whale-watching year-round on the endangered orcas until the population is in full recovery.
Washington Academy of Sciences released a report in August, 2020, recommending a precautionary approach to rulemaking, and said that any approach closer than 1/2 nautical mile should be considered a disturbance. The report concluded that there is no evidence of a "sentinel" (protective) effect by commercial whale watch operators. The Economic Viability Analysis showed that the commercial whale watching industry is not dependent on viewing SRKW for economic viability. In Canada, where a suspension on viewing SRKW has been in place for two years, ridership on commercial vessels has increased.
The Southern Resident Orca Task Force and Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans recommend a suspension of whale-watching on the SRKW population. Reducing vessel noise and disturbance is the only immediate step that can be taken to aid the population’s recovery. With new calves born in 2020, it is even more imperative that the population be given every opportunity to hunt and forage for what scarce prey exists in their core feeding habitats without vessel interference.
Allowing any whale-watching and intentional disturbance on this critically endangered species is a significant and unnecessary compromise.
Please support a year-round closure of whale watching on the SRKW population until it is in full recovery and removed from the Endangered Species list.
Southern Resident Protection, Lopez Island
Dr. Tim Ragen, Executive Director, US Marine Mammal Commission (retired), Science Advisor, Southern Resident Protection
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