With boating season kicking off, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), Be Whale Wise and other partners are reminding boaters this season to do their part to follow regulations that support Southern Resident killer whale (SRKW) survival.

By following these steps below, boaters can be a part of the work to make a difference for the whales’ ability to ability to move about, feed and socialize:

  • Stay at least 300 yards from Southern Resident killer whales and at least 400 yards out of the path in front of and behind the whales.
  • Reduce your speed to seven knots within one-half nautical mile of a Southern Resident killer whale.
  • Watch for the Whale Warning Flag, a tool to let others know that there might be whales nearby. If you see the flag, slow down! Get a flag of your own from our partners at the San Juan County Marine Resources Committee.
  • Turn off fish finders and/or depth sounders if you see killer whales.
  • If you plan to use a drone while out on the water, take the following steps to ensure you’re helping to limit disturbances to marine mammals. Maintain a 1,000-ft. minimum altitude within one-half nautical mile of a marine mammal; and avoid flight maneuvers around marine mammals (on land or in the water).
  • Help to encourage positive behavior: Report violations to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Enforcement at 877-933-9847 or online at BeWhaleWise.org.

Classified as an endangered species, Southern Resident killer whales are a beloved icon of the Pacific Northwest.

Three primary threats to the whales are:

  • A lack of prey
  • Toxic contaminants
  • Disturbance from noise and vessel traffic.

Vessel traffic can interrupt echolocation clicks the whales use to track and capture fish. A key finding from research that National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries published earlier this year indicates this is especially prominent in females, which often give up foraging when boats approach within 400 yards. Research shows this may be most concerning in pregnant or nursing mothers that must support calves.

Further emphasizing the cause for concern, only about one-third of the SRKW population is actively breeding. Of those breeding, not many pregnancies result in live calves, and even when they do, not many calves survive.

We’re committed to giving them a better future. WDFW is actively producing more Chinook salmon to support food for these orcas, helping to restore shoreline and river habitat, setting supportive fishing seasons, monitoring whales’ health and safety, and improving fish passage for salmon, among other things.

For more details about steps you can take as a recreational boater to keep the whales – and yourself! – safe, visit BeWhaleWise.org. For the guidelines in a printable version to keep aboard your boat, visit the Be Whale Wise website.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife works to preserve, protect, and perpetuate fish, wildlife, and ecosystems while providing sustainable fish, wildlife, and recreational and commercial opportunities.