Letters to the Editor

Disagrees with claim that private boaters cause most of the problems

In his Aug. 5 letter, John Boyd suggested that I "turn myself in" and that I apologize to Kari Koski (and everyone who volunteers for Soundwatch) for making the point that Koski, in her role as Soundwatch spokesperson, serves as an echo chamber for the whale-watch industry.

To Koski, I would say, if you’re going to act as a spokesperson and be quoted in the newspaper on public policy issues, you have to be ready for people to disagree with you.

To recap, it was Koski who had earlier commented to the San Juan Journal that Orca Relief is “barking up the wrong tree” (for protesting vessel activity in the vicinity of the whales) and that "Overall, it is private boaters, not commercial whale-watch boats, that are responsible for the majority of violations.”

I said earlier, I regularly observe violations of the rules by commercial whale-watching boats and so disagree with Koski’s claim that it is private boaters who cause most of the problems. It’s interesting to note in the online thread following my letter, an (anonymous) supporter of Soundwatch observed that “Soundwatch consistently asks whale-watch operators to back-off groups of whales, but because Soundwatch has no enforcement authority, those requests usually go unanswered.”

A few days after I wrote my letter, new proposed rules from NOAA were announced requiring all boats to stay 200 yards or more from the whales and to respect a half-mile wide no-go zone along the west side. As long as the regulations are actually enforced and violators are subject to material consequences, I think this is a sensible approach and I applaud NOAA for their work and have submitted comments to that effect through the official process.

Regarding the need to "turn myself in,” I will point out that I have never written an anonymous letter on this subject, that the debate is around an important matter of public policy, and that I respect the right of others to disagree.

I will also say that I have met Kari, have talked with her about this issue, and would absolutely vouch that she's a nice person and, in fact, someone I have welcomed in my home. We disagree on how Soundwatch can be most effective in supporting the recovery of the whales. Since she is the leader and designated spokesperson for an organization that has an important voice on these issues, I think it's appropriate to call her out by name regarding any specific comments she makes on this issue or for any policy issues related to Soundwatch.

Related to this point, if in fact, Soundwatch has a revised policy of not accepting donations from the whale-watch industry or any of the vessel owners or operators in order to ensure an independent, objective voice, then I would ask that they make that policy clear on the Web site. The policy now posted says donations are private, and does not list any of the funders.

Since it was whale-watch operators themselves who told me they help fund Soundwatch — admittedly, years ago — I assumed that was still the case. It would be helpful if The Journal could check this one point for clarification.

Sincerely,

Monica Harrington
San Juan Island

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