The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) published its pre-draft rules for Commercial Whale-Watching Licensing last week. (Read them here.) Key features are that no whale-watching on the southern residents would be allowed October 1 through June 30. Whale-watching between July 1 and September 30th would be allowed but limited to 4 hours per day and 3 boats per group. No whale-watching would be allowed on any group with a calf less than a year old.
There is a small window of time to give WDFW feedback on these rules. Sign up to attend a feedback session tomorrow or Thursday, or submit written comments via a webform by 5 PM Thursday. (Go to “Current Public Engagement Opportunities” on the WDFW website linked here.) The next version of the rules will be published on October 21st. Your voice matters, and it matters now!
Our take: This is a strong start but the rules can be even stronger, by reducing noise and disturbance around the whales and giving them the best chance to forage year-round.
The goal of the rules as defined in the law is to reduce noise and disturbance around the orcas, and consider financial impact on license holders.
An economics report confirmed that commercial operators do not depend on watching southern residents for economic viability: “…Primary Motorized Whale Watch and Kayak Tour sectors are not financially dependent upon SRKW viewing…the industry has remained profitable despite previous reductions in SRKW viewing opportunities over the past ten years.” Economic Viability Analysis, p. 3)
A science report by the Washington Academy of Science recommends a precautionary approach: “Given the fragile condition of the SRKW population, however, the committee considers the precautionary approach to management of known stressors to be justified. The committee recommends defining every interaction with an SRKW as an opportunity to disturb a whale.” (Summary of Key Research Findings about Underwater Noise and Vessel Disturbance, August 2020, p. 1)
The science is clear, the economics are clear, and the need is clear. Now WDFW needs to know that the public supports them in taking a precautionary approach to rulemaking and giving the southern residents the space they need to forage and rear their young, year-round.
Please weigh in for the whales. You don’t need to live in Washington!
This is the last leg of a long relay that began as a recommendation by the Governor’s Task Force, championed by The Whale Trail. January 1 2021 will start a new era of meaningful protection for the southern resident orcas…or not. Let’s finish strong for the orcas, and give Tahlequah, her calf and kin a fighting chance