Both the State of Washington and the province of British Columbia have implemented new regulations intended to protect the remaining population of Southern Resident Orca/Killer Whales. Newly passed regulations take effect immediately and apply to recreational boats, commercial whale watch operators, and some commercial vessels.
Washington State legislation has chosen the term “Orca” while BC has chosen “Killer” for the purposes of the new regulations, Orca Whale and Killer Whale are the same. Washington State legislation describes distances in “yards/meters” so as to imply that both units of measure are, for these purposes, approximately the same.
WASHINGTON STATE WATERS
The State of Washington has just completed new regulations regarding required safe distances from Southern Resident Orca whales. These new regulations were signed into law on May 8 th by Governor Inslee and take effect immediately.
1. It is now illegal for boaters to get within 300 yards/meters of Southern Resident Orca whales.
2. It is now illegal for boaters to be within 400 yards/meters of the path (behind and in front) of Southern Resident Orca whales.
3. There is a 7-knot speed limit within one-half nautical mile distance from Southern Resident Orca whales.
4. If a whale comes within 200 yards of a vessel, boaters are required to disengage engine transmission(s) until the whales are a safe distance away.
In addition to increasing the separation between boats and Southern Resident Orca whales, Washington State Senate Bill 5577 establishes new licensing requirements for Commercial Whale Watching operators. The definition of Commercial Whale Watching operators is somewhat broadly defined to include kayak rental operators for whale watching purposes. Licenses will be sold by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. This same department is tasked with creating and implementing rules
for commercial operators that reduce the cumulative impacts on Southern Resident Orca whales and to consider the economic viability of licensed commercial operators.
While this bill applies to all boaters, the bill mainly focuses on commercial whale watch operators. This bill applies to Southern Orca Whales; current Federal and State regulations for other whales and marine mammals remain.
Protecting Southern Resident Orca whales is a high priority in Washington State. The physical and social differences between Southern Resident Orca whales and Transient Orca whales may be hard for most recreational boaters to identify, so practically speaking, it is best to stay well clear of all Orca whales.
BRITISH COLUMBIA WATERS
Canada government on May 10 th announced new measures to protect Southern Resident Killer Whales in Critical Habitat areas of BC waters. Critical Habitat BC waters include southern Strait of Georgia, the southeast portion of the Gulf Islands, Boundary Pass, Haro Strait, Strait of Juan de Fuca, and offshore from West Coast Vancouver Island up to Tofino. Some of the measures take effect immediately, while most take effect on June 1 st .
1. Three (3) Interim Sanctuary Zones have been established where general vessel traffic is prohibited from June 1 – October 31. Vessel traffic is not allowed in these three areas: a) off the southwest shore of North Pender Island; b) off the southeast end of Saturna Island; and c) Swiftsure Bank at the east entrance to Strait of Juan de Fuca.
2. A 400-meter approach distance has been established for recreational vessels and most commercial whale watching operators. Vessels must remain at least 400 meters from all killer whales when in Southern Resident Killer Whale Critical Habitat areas. Some exceptions will be permitted for commercial whale watch operators viewing Transient or Biggs killer whales.
3. Three “Enhanced Management Areas” have been established (Frasier River mouth, waters around Pender Islands of the southern Gulf Islands, and Strait of Juan de Fuca) where all vessels are asked to reduce their speed to less than 7 knots when within 1 km of killer whales.
4. When safe to do so, vessel operators are asked to turn off their echo sounders and turn engines to neutral idle if a whale is within 400 meters.
5. All vessels are being asked to voluntarily slow to reduce noise in Boundary Pass and Haro Strait. This applies to all classes of vessels including large commercial ships.
6. Recreational and commercial salmon fishing is being limited in key foraging areas. These measures include continued Chinook salmon conservation to the end of October, and bubble closures around killer whales. See Department of Fisheries and Oceans for more details.
Canada’s efforts to protect Southern Resident Killer Whales include signing the Conservation Agreement
with the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority and six other member organizations of the ECHO program that represent large commercial vessels that commits parties to ongoing efforts to reduce underwater noise from large commercial vessels.
The Government of Canada will be entering into an agreement with the Pacific Whale Watch Association who will refrain from offering tours on Southern Resident killer whales and will commit to taking other stewardship actions.
Leonard and Lorena Landon
Waggoner Cruising Guide