Letters to the Editor

Whale watch association touts record of responsibility | Letters

Dear orca advocates throughout the Northwest;

It appears that our local orca pods are experiencing a bountiful summer. Our members report active, healthy animals enjoying what appears to be ample salmon resources.

Ken Balcomb, leading orca expert, was quoted as saying “the orca whales are fat and healthy”. Most scientists agree that the restoration of wild salmon stocks is the key to orca recovery.

Our members would like to clear up some unfortunate misinformation which distorts our positive efforts to conserve and protect the killer whales we watch and have come to know as friends and family.

The Whale Museum’s Soundwatch program, supported by NOAA funding, reports that commercial whale watching boats create a very small part of interaction concerns on the water. Most concerns come from private boaters who are uninformed of the guidelines and laws pertaining to orca. Soundwatch data also shows that whale watch boats do not operate at high speed near the orca, as we are concerned that we might interfere with their hunting methods.

We instituted this guideline on ourselves years ago, as a precaution. At a half mile, we drop down to seven knots, ‘idle speed’, and approach the whales, remaining 200 yards away.

In contrast to the thought our boats might possibly harm whales, the fact is that the whales we spend the most time with have enjoyed the healthiest population, J pod. Both Soundwatch data and law enforcement report excellent member behavior again this year.

There seems to be some interest toward creating a “No Go Zone” on the west side of San Juan Island. PWWA would like to point out that we instituted the current “No Go Zone” on the west side to improve shore observation and create a foraging zone for orca whales when present. This area has been in place for many years.

During the rule making process we advocated a “Go Slow Zone”, which solves the speed and sound concerns.

During this decade of rule-making we have worked positively with NOAA, the Center for Whale Research, the Whale Museum, Soundwatch, Straitswatch, state and federal law enforcement, the Coast Guard, and many others to promote orca protection and recovery. The road to this point had some bumps and turns, but always we were guided by the desire to protect the orca and create a sustainable future for both the orca and our members.

To quote Will Stelle, regional director of NOAA:

“I appreciate your commitment to comply with the new regulations and am confident that your industry will serve as a valuable example on the water of proper whale watching practices. We have identified your past record of continued improvement, high level of compliance, and proactive steps (like creating PWWA guidelines) in the documents supporting our regulations. We will continue to share this information with the public to recognize your efforts and support. Thank you for your suggestions on how we can provide recognition of your good performance to the public and the media.”

One last point that we would like to present is that if NOAA decides to create a ‘go slow zone, the PWWA believes that new area should be named in honor of Ken Balcomb, for his tireless 40 years of scientific observation and advocacy for the southern resident killer whales.

In closing, we invite everyone to join us on our whale watching and wildlife tours to experience not only our behavior around orca, but also see how our naturalists educate our guests about orca recovery and protection.

| The PWWA believes that sustainable tourism, based on best practices guidelines, while educating the public about whales and environmental issues, is the very essence of responsible capitalism.

Bill Wright, owner, San Juan Safaris

On behalf of the Pacific Whale Watch Association



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