Limiting professionals hinders conservation efforts

This week's editorial.

Originally published by the Pacific Whale Watching Association

Following the decision by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Wildlife Commission to limit viewing of the Southern resident orcas for much of the year, the Pacific Whale Watch Association is dismayed the State will require this professional community to turn their backs on these iconic whales.

“While we are fortunate here in the Pacific Northwest to have abundant year-round opportunities to observe thriving pods of Bigg’s killer whales, a booming population of Humpback whales, and a myriad of other marine wildlife that frequent the region,” states Jeff Friedman, President of the [PWWA], “we find it incredibly unfortunate that the endangered Southern residents will lose our professional protective presence on those ever more rare visits when they need us most.”

Professional whale watchers are a conscientious group of committed individuals and companies who strongly believe that conservation is a business sustainability practice.

“Sadly, just as the PWWA was beginning to make real and substantive progress on the most comprehensive sightings network collaboration effort ever attempted,” adds Friedman, “the decision by WDFW to solely restrict the professional whale watch community could single-handedly derail this important conservation initiative the PWWA has been working on with the maritime community.”

The PWWA has been in high-level discussions with the government agencies, Port of Vancouver’s Echo Program, Oceanwise and the Whale Report Alert System, Washington State Ferries, the Royal Canadian Navy, and most recently members of the newly formed Quiet Sound program to discuss sharing real-time access to sightings data via the PWWA’s powerful sightings App.

The PWWA recognizes that undue vessel noise can have adverse effects on whales, that’s why over the past two decades the PWWA has voluntarily established numerous internal guidelines and changes in business practices to aid in SRKW recovery. Many of these best practices established by the PWWA, including requiring vessels to slow at half a mile from whales and establishing the ¼ mile no-go zone on the west side of San Juan Island, are now considered to be effective tools to significantly mitigate impacts on whales.

“We are deeply concerned the recent decision to limit viewing of SRKWs for much of the year is not going to provide the targeted noise reduction benefits WDFW hopes to achieve in their recovery,” Friedman adds. “Quite the contrary. Our ability to provide unmatched real-time information and communicate the endangered whales’ presence to shipping traffic, military vessels, numerous ferries, and the ever-increasing numbers of recreational vessels, will now be silenced for much of the year.”

Although the PWWA respects and appreciates the intentions of WDFW and the Wildlife Commission to implement a licensing program intended to provide noise reduction benefits for the SRKW, solely removing whale watching professionals from the conservation equation does little to nothing to reduce the overall vessel noise environment the whales experience throughout their designated critical habitat on a daily basis.