K Family, by M Sears

Earlier this week I testified at a Senate hearing in support of Senate Bill 5577, to reduce the harmful impacts of vessel noise and disturbance on the southern resident orcas.

The bill and its companion bill in the House (1580) propose two key measures to reduce noise and disturbance: a limited permit system to be in place by 2021, and a temporary suspension of whale-watching by all vessels to take effect immediately.

The bills are in jeopardy. Please call or write committee members NOW and tell them you support the strongest protection for the orcas. (list of members is at the bottom of this page)

A limited entry permit system provides common-sense tools to manage the activities of a commercial, consumptive industry that targets an endangered species.

  • The suspension is equitable, enforceable, and protects the whales in the near term and wherever they go, chasing Fraser River salmon in the summer, or Puget Sound chum in the fall.
  • If we can’t create the conditions that allow the population to stabilize over the next few years, we are likely to lose them forever.
  • A ‘go slow’ zone is not enough, and does not change the number of boats that are around the whales or the hours they are with them.

There is a role for sustainable whale-watching. It must be sustainable for the whales first. Our insatiable desire to get close to these whales, by catamaran, kayak, or paddle board is costing them their lives, and their future.

  • Last year, an average of 121 commercial vessels were on the water during the peak months of June through September.
  • More than 6000 kayaks put in from San Juan County Park, into the heart of the orcas’ core and critical range.

Last summer I was on San Juan Island at Lime Kiln State Park. I watched a kayak company guide lead a group of kayakers directly into the path of incoming whales. They paddled harder and faster to park directly in front of the whales. The whales were foraging, and had to change their path to avoid the kayakers. It was J-pod, and it was a few days before Tahlequah lost her calf.

  • Everyone wants their 5 minutes with the orcas. What is costing them?

The science is clear:

  • The southern resident orcas lose 5.5 hours of foraging time EVERY DAY due to noise and disturbance from the whale-watching industry and commercial vessels. (Tollit et al 2017)  It doesn’t matter how many salmon are in the sea, if the orcas can’t hear to find them.
  •  Prolonged exposure to noise and disturbance (12+ hours each day as the whale experience in summer) impacts foraging efficiency, social cohesion, reproductive success and fetal growth. (NOAA Tech Memo Evaluating Be Whale Wise Guidelines 2017)
  • Noise and salmon availability are inextricably linked. To achieve recovery, we need to increase salmon by 15% and decrease noise by 50%. (Lacy et al 2017)

Reducing noise and disturbance is the most effective thing we can do to protect the whales in the near term. Giving them more acoustic and physical space will make it easier for them to find food, to share their prey, to give birth and tend their young.

We are not helpless to stop this slide. The whales are not giving up, and neither can we. We cannot afford to wait another season, another session, another year.

Three things you can do to help the orcas:

  1. Call committee members now and tell them you support HB 1580 and SB 5577 with strong protection for the orcas.
  2. Tell a friend! Ask three friends to contact the committee members too.
  3. Join our group “Save the Orcas, Stop the Noise.” Meet other people who share our goals and stay up to date with news about the bills.

When Tahlequah and her kin return this summer, will they return to quieter seas? Or will this summer be even worse than last, because we will bear the knowledge that we could have done something different, and chose not to? Their fate is in our hands.

Thank you for caring about the orcas! Wishing you a wonderful weekend and hope to see you on The Whale Trail!

Bills to  reduce vessel noise and disturbance on Southern Resident Killer Whales (J, K and L pods) and list of Senate and House Committee members.

Senate Bill 5577

Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee

Senator Room Phone
Van De Wege, Kevin (D)
212 John A. Cherberg Building (360) 786-7646
Salomon, Jesse (D)
Vice Chair
404 Legislative Building (360) 786-7662
Warnick, Judy (R)
Ranking Member
103 Irv Newhouse Building (360) 786-7624
Honeyford, Jim (R) 112 Irv Newhouse Building (360) 786-7684
McCoy, John (D) 305 Legislative Building (360) 786-7674
Rolfes, Christine (D) 303 John A. Cherberg Building (360) 786-7644
Short, Shelly (R) 409 Legislative Building (360) 786-7612

House Bill 1580

House Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources Committee