Puget Sound Seattle Washington Protects Southern Resident Orcas

Puget Sound Seattle Washington Protects Southern Resident Orcas
Puget Sound Seattle Washington Protects Southern Resident Orcas
West Coast Whale Migration Routes
West Coast Whale Migration Routes

Puget Sound Seattle Washington Protects Southern Resident Orcas (see videos below) – On Thursday March 7, 2019, the Washington state House and Senate passed their own versions of a bill to reduce vessel noise and disturbance by increasing the distance boats must stay from the southern resident orcas in Puget Sound.

Current law requires boats to not approach and to disengage engines within 200 yards from orcas. Both bills increase that distance to 300 yards, add a prohibition on being positioned within 400 yards behind an orca and add a speed limit of 7 knots when within one-half of a nautical mile of an orca.

The Senate bill passed on a 46-3 vote and the House bill passed on a 78-20 vote. Either of the bills needs to pass through the other chamber before heading to Govenor Jay Inslee’s desk. The bills also implement a commercial whale watching license and fees.

State and Federal regulations require vessels to stay 200 yards away & keep 400 yards out of the path of orcas whales. If an orca whale approaches your vessels within 200 yards you must disengage the transmission of your engine, place your vessel in neutral, and allow the whale to pass safely. These regulations are synonymous throughout the inland waters of Washington State and British Columbia.

Southern Residents Whales Endangered

Pacific Ocean Warm Water Blob
Pacific Ocean Warm Water Blob

The Salish Sea is home to many marine mammals, but most known as the home of the Southern Residents. This unique population of orca whales only feeds on salmon and live in close family groups. Unfortunately, the Southern Residents were listed as endangered in 2005, with only 75 remaining as of early 2019.

Other orca whales will eat seals, but not the orcas that frequent Puget Sound. They not only confine their diet mostly to salmon, but specifically the best quality, high-fat chinook.

The whales are among the eight most endangered species in the country, and are trying to survive in waters crowded with shipping traffic, tainted by stormwater runoff and other pollution. Orcas are among the most contaminated marine mammals in the world, carrying residues of pesticides, flame retardants, industrial coolants and solvents.

Pacific Ocean Warm Water -The Blob

A warm water event, called ‘The Blob’, began forming off the West Coast in late 2014 and disrupted the marine food web of the Southern Residents. Four-year-old chinook salmon that southern killer whale residents target are forecast to be scarce nearly everywhere across the whales’ vast migratory range from Washington to British Columbia.

Lack of food is the single biggest threat to the survival of endangered southern resident killer whales in Puget Sound.  Salmon begin life in freshwater but take to saltwater and grow at sea before returning to spawn. Ocean conditions affect how many fish return for fishermen and killer whales.

Another warm water event like The Blob,  could be harmful, said Jameal Samhouri, a marine ecologist at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center.

Port Hardy British Columbia Canada
Port Hardy British Columbia Canada

With climate modeling, the study suggests that the Blob would not have occurred without human-induced warming. “So right now, it’s an outlier in an already warmed world,” he said. “In a more warmed world, it will be a typical condition.” Which he says means, on the current trajectory, in 20 years or so, events like the blob could start to become the new norm. You know we may end up with an ecological setting more similar to, say, California than what we’re accustomed to along the coast of Alaska,” Brettschneider said.

Trawlers and motoryachts typically transit Canada’s Inside Passage in the summer as well as a small and larger cruise ships. This web of narrow, steep-sided passages leads through 250 miles of forested wilderness from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert Harbor.

Along the way, visit Chatter Box Falls, Bella Bella, and a few fly-in lodges with roaring fires. The Alaska Inside Passage has several of those tight stretches where you need good tide data and full power.

At Prince Rupert, you’re only 80 miles from Ketchikan, Alaska, gateway to Glacier Bay National Park. Grizzly bears and iceberg chunks dot the rocky forested shores.

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