Senator Murray is Beginning to Listen to You on Orca Issues

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By any account, the consensus among those who attended the three public meetings held by NOAA Fisheries Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) on the proposed vessel regulations is that the regulations need careful reconsideration before being adopted. This is an emotional and contentious issue…one that at every turn seems to have caught our government officials off-guard. From NMFS to our state senators, no one seems to have anticipated the groundswell of public opinion on the issue, nor to have taken into account how unified people with divergent interests are when it comes to the subject of the southern resident killer whales. (Please see Carole May’s excellent article which covers the most recent public meeting in Friday Harbor).

Although the people who are directly involved have different points of view and different agendas based on how the regulations might impact them, everybody is concerned about the welfare of the orcas. Granted, there is a fair measure of self-interest involved by those who live, work, and play in the region most affected by the proposed regulations (San Juan Island) – but in large measure, those people have chosen lifestyles that permit them to be there, not the other way around. In other words, people involved with tour companies, commercial and recreational fisheries, and pleasure boats have either found ways to make a living doing what they enjoy, or in other cases, dedicate their free time and disposable income to vacationing, fishing and whale watching, so in most cases their appreciation of the orcas and the environment preceded their vested interests.

Photo by Erin Heydenreich

On some issues, environmentalists, developers, the tourist industry, and commercial fisheries represent opposing philosophies on the “rights of man” versus nature…but not when it comes to the orcas. The people of Washington State are unified in our respect and affection for the whales, we consider them an important asset even if our livelihood and leisure pursuits are not tied to them.

Where is our leadership on this issue? I suspect that they might feel as blindsided as the rest of us by the way NMFS has handled the presentation of the proposed regulations, and maybe a bit surprised to learn that issues involving orcas are important to such a large number of their constituents. But for whatever reason, neither of our senators nor our governor had formulated an official statement on the issue when I contacted their offices yesterday (October 6th).

Senator Patty Murray’s office is relatively responsive, open, and communicative, and I am impressed by the effort they have made to attend to orca issues recently. From what I understand I might not be in agreement with Senator Murray’s position, but in all fairness I’ll give her time to step up to the plate and let us know how she feels about the issues affecting orcas, both captive and wild.

I’m still waiting to hear back from Senator Cantwell’s and Governor Gregoire’s offices…

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