What would Puget Sound’s killer whales really want?October 1st, 2009 by cdunagan
Two hearings regarding proposed boating regulations to protect Puget Sound orcas from noise and disturbance have brought out a variety of opinions. Folks involved in the whale-watching industry showed up in large numbers, as did sport and commercial fishers.
Scott Veirs, who studies the acoustics of killer whales, blogged about last night’s meeting in Seattle:
“Overall, there were strong objections to the entire suite of alternatives — from the 200 yard viewing distance to the no-go zone. People for Puget Sound went on record saying that a no-go zone was a step too far. And Ken Balcomb (Center for Whale Research) voted for no action.
“I was left with a profound disappointment that so many felt so unfairly burdened by the proposed rules. If the people who most intimately and consistently share the southern resident’s habitat aren’t willing to make a sacrifice to preserve the basis of their livelihoods, how can we expect the public to act selflessly for our regional icons: the orca and the salmon?”
I thought the piece put together by reporter Mark Wright of KCPQ-TV (viewer above right) provided a nicely summarized and balanced perspective on the issue, though it did not examine the scientific issue.
To dig more deeply, take a loot at the extensive list of comments compiled by the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2007 when “potential vessel regulations” were being discussed. Information about the proposed rule — including questions and answers — can be found on the page “Regulations on Vessel Effects.”
A few odds and ends in recent days:
“People For Puget Sound supports the distance (200 yards) and no intentional parking in the path of traveling whales
“People For Puget Sound agrees in concept with a “no-go zone” akin to the Robson Bight protected area in British Columbia, but has concerns about the scientific basis, actual size, exemptions for some types of operations, access to public parks, unintended consequences, feasibility of enforcement, and other questions.
“People For Puget Sound suggests that NOAA convene a vessel operator stakeholder group that includes commercial fishing operators, container and cruise ship operators, small recreational boat companies, recreational boating and fishing groups, research vessel operators, military, whale watching companies and others to discuss operational issues and ensure that fair treatment is given to all. Tribal fishing operators should also be part of a further consultation process.”
“A positive aspect to this is that our whale watching adventures can be enhanced because we will more fully appreciate how the whales behave when not surrounded by our boats. In addition, the creation of a seasonal refuge will impact other species – we may find that marine mammals (such as Harbor porpoises) and seabirds will also use the area more fully, and our whale watching trips will be further enriched.
“On the downside, I feel that the proposed regulations have been painted with too broad a brush and hopefully some adjustments can be made before being adopted. Although I understand the logic behind the decisions to apply the rules equally to power boats and kayaks, for example, I think this penalizes those people who wish to find alternatives, and discourages innovation. The blanket rules provide no incentives for responsible viewing nor do they provide a way to enforce the regulations that I was able to see. And I am perplexed by the fact that the refuge as planned does not include the preferred rest areas of the orcas, as defined by NMFS in their documents.”
Shane Aggergaard, Pacific Whale Watch Association
Our recommendation for the new proposed vessel regulations is a combination of Scenario #1 and Scenario #2 from the Draft Environmental Assessment, and an additional element which is supported by the available vessel/killer whale science that we have seen to date.
The PWWA recommends:
Vessels may not negligently be within 100 meters of Southern Resident Killer Whales in Washington, Oregon, and California, except under special permit issued by NOAA.
Vessels must avoid the established path of Southern Resident Killer Whales.
Vessels must obey a 7 knot speed restriction year round from Eagle Point to Mitchell Point, along San Juan Island, out 1/2 mile, except for official law enforcement vessels or vessels engaged in emergency and rescue situations.
This recommendation is more restrictive than the current state law and is within the spirit of the Marine Mammal Protection Act… The PWWA recommendation takes into account sound and proximity issues, foraging, traveling, socializing and resting behaviors, important habitat protection and further reduces the potential for vessel strikes. It is in accordance with the precautionary principles used to date for the whales’ protection and does not diminish the important educational elements of commercial whale watching. The PWWA recommendation will not negatively contribute to the economy, and is a fair and reasonable law that is less likely to be challenged and overturned in the future.
“We know that the whales are starving, and we know that boat presence accelerates their starvation.
“But we know something else, thanks to the NMFS staff who presented the rule finding guidelines at the federal hearing in Friday Harbor: we know that it is illegal to pursue an endangered species.
“Surely this is a typo, or a mistake; otherwise, how could so many companies be in business doing just that, pursuing whales?
“No, it is not a mistake: it was repeated three times, at our request, in response to the first questions at that hearing, by NMFS biologist, attorneys, and administrators. No mistake, stated three times, verbatim: “it is illegal to pursue the Southern Resident Orca.”
“If we know that boat presence is contributing directly to whale deaths, and if it is illegal to pursue these animals, NMFS has no cause to pursue incremental changes to a set of whale watch operator guidelines taken from 1950s NMFS regulations on watching grey (baleen) whales…
“You want to move the goal posts from 100 yards to 200 yards for boats, as though they will obey this impossible rule any better than the last one. To the toothed whales, trying to hear underwater, the difference is not enough to matter.”