The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is seeking public feedback on two proposals drafted on regulating motorized commercial whale watching, it announced in a press release Wednesday.
The proposals are aimed at reducing noise impacts caused by motorized commercial whale watching traffic on the Southern Resident orca populations, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Option A would limit the watching season of the Southern Resident orcas from July through September, from Friday through Monday and restrict the amount of commercial watching vessels with a group of whales to three.
Option B would do the same but also add a “shoulder season” of May through June and October through November, restricting watching days to Saturday and Sunday and allowing one vessel per group of Southern Resident killer whales.
Both proposals require motorized commercial whale watching companies to be licensed, have trainings and by 2022 require vessels to have real-time location tracking. Both options will create a year-round “no-go” zone restricted to whale watching on the western side of San Juan Island, which is an orca foraging area.
The Southern Resident orca population totals 74 whales as of October, according to the Center for Whale Research. There are 24 in J pod, 17 in K pod, and 33 in L pod, the center reports. The resident orcas’ population was halved in the 1960s and 1970s by captures for marine parks and, later, further reduced by environmental stresses and diminishing numbers of king salmon, which make up the bulk of their diet. It was named an endangered species in 2005, but has not recovered its numbers.
Because the original draft of Option A did not include language restricting watching to certain days, comments on allowing for daily viewing will also be heard, according to a following press release.
The public can submit written feedback online before Nov. 13 to be heard by the Fish and Wildlife Commission. Submissions can be sent on the Fish and Wildlife website, www.wdfw.wa.gov. Public comments about the proposals can also be made during a virtual hearing on Dec. 4-5.