After what felt like a very long winter, Puget Sound residents are excited to get out on the water and enjoy the beauty of our region. June is Orca Action Month, a time to celebrate and protect one of our region’s most iconic marine mammals, the Southern Resident orcas. As we launch into summer, the San Juan County Marine Program would like to remind you of the simple things that boaters can do to be a part of orca recovery.

Our resident killer whales have a unique social structure; they remain in matrilineal family groups, or pods, throughout their lives. The theme of this year’s Orca Month — “We Are Family”– highlights not only this close family bond, but the connection shared between all living things in our region. Over the last year, we have rallied around the idea that we are all in this together, seeing our actions ripple out across a web of connection.

Laws and guidelines are in place to protect the endangered orcas as they hunt for food in our waters. Boaters can Be Whale Wise to ensure they are boating safely and acting as stewards on the water.

Know the Washington State Laws

  • Stay 300 yards from orcas on either side and 400 yards out of orca’s path/in front and behind the whales.
  • Go slow (<7 knots) within ½ mile of orcas and disengage engines if whales appear within 300 yards.

Give Them Space

  • Observe the San Juan Island West Side Voluntary No-Boat Zone in the critical feeding areas – extends from Mitchell Point to Cattle Point; 1/4 mile offshore, 1/2 mile around Lime Kiln Point State Park.

Follow the Be Whale Wise Guidelines

  • Use the Whale Warning Flag to alert boaters to the presence of whales and be aware of the flag when you’re cruising.
  • Refrain from fishing, where possible, within 1,000 meters or half mile of orcas and turn off fish finders and echo sounders when able to do so.
  • Don’t pass between whales and the shoreline.

You can view the full regulations and guidelines, as well as get a whale warning flag, at www.BeWhaleWise.org. Thank you for taking action and doing your part to help keep our waters safe.

By Dr. Francis Robertson
Marine Program Coordinator
San Juan County
Photo by Taylor Shedd