Tag Archives: whale watching

The Orca Task Force targets whale watching boats, delays action on dams

Whales from the J and K orca pods in Puget Sound.  (AP Photo/NOAA Fisheries Service, Candice Emmons, file)

In their rush to judgement and to take bold actions to save the endangered Southern Resident orcas, Governor Inslee’s Task Force voted to approve a flawed document that calls for killing sea lions and ending whale watching from boats. Long term measures to recover salmon and improve water quality were well thought out but there are no measures in place to get more fish to the whales in the short term.
The organizers who ran the task force did an amazing job and were cognizant of their responsibility to the public. But if they saw what those of us in the public chairs or watching the live stream saw yesterday, they might have put more constraints on some of the other task force members who wandered around and talked among themselves at times instead of dialing into the work at hand. The morning session can be found below, the beginning of the vessel discussion starts at the 2:23:00 mark and finishes in the afternoon session which is not available at this time. [Update: both sessions are  now available].
The end result was an 11th hour push to severely curtail and finally to eliminate the presence of watching boats around the Resident orcas for 3 – 5 years.
There are two main problems with this. First, they bent their own rules of order by introducing major changes at this stage and second, they failed to provide conclusive science on how removing the boats entirely is more effective than limiting the speed, distance, or time the boats are with the whales. The only reference I heard quoted combined the whale watching vessels with all commercial vessels – it’s not just unfair to address only the whale watch boats, it’s bad science.
Kayakers may lose their access to the nearshore. Whale Watch Park. Lime Kiln State Park, San Juan Island. Photo: Jason’s kayaking blog.

If these measures are allowed to work their way through the legislative process unchallenged, the number of people who have an opportunity to see the orcas will be curtailed and many will seek out shore-based opportunities when visiting the San Juans – but those places have limited parking and can’t accommodate many people.
And anyway, what they’ll see is still-hungry whales going extinct – albeit in quieter water. There were no bold actions to honor treaty rights and take down the obsolete Snake River dams, which would have been the quickest way to build salmon populations.
Orcas Island resident and State Senator Kevin Ranker, who lobbied for (and helped write) the proposed vessel regulations issued this statement:

“I am proud of the hard work, discussion and analysis we have put into these bold recommendations working toward recovery of the orca. The Task Force has worked very hard over the last six months developing major recommendations for the state to implement.
“We are recommending critical actions to protect and recover these magnificent creatures by reducing the risk of oil spills through banning offshore oil drilling, mandating tug escorts for all vessels transporting oil, and stationing an emergency rescue tug in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca that can respond when a vessel is in distress.
“Additionally, the task force boldly recommended we protect the whales from vessel impacts through a suspension of whale watching of the southern residents, a new limited entry permit system for all commercial whale watching.
“Also, we are dramatically increasing protections for critical near shore habitat for forage fish, salmon, and whales.
“This report is just the first step. Our work is not finished, it has just begun. Implementation is critical as these recommendations go before the governor and Legislature. I pledge to work hard with my colleagues in the Legislature to enact bold policy to permanently protect our resident orcas.
“Now we must all unite to ensure these recommendations become law, so our children and grandchildren can experience that total sense of awe as they see a healthy and thriving southern resident orca population in our Salish Sea.”

A Flying Ambassador for Wild Orcas Needs Your Help

 
Wild Orca is a 501(3)(c) Non-Profit Organization. Donations are tax deductible.

Summary


Kenmore Air seaplanes are seen by thousands of people on a daily basis. We want to transform a 1950’s deHavilland Otter seaplane into a flying ambassador for wild orcas.
We will use this platform to:

  • Inspire conversations about endangered killer whales,
  • Distribute information about local orca populations,
  • Educate people about what they can do to help protect the species,
  • Educate people how they can support long-term orca research and conservation efforts.

We need your help to fund this project.

What We Need & What You Get

The $14,500 needed will cover the costs associated with:

  • The application of an original custom orca paint scheme,
  • The production of educational booklets.
In return for your generous donation, you will receive one of the attractive gifts offered here.
(Courtesy of Orca Network)
The Impact
This awareness campaign will educate the public about the threats facing endangered killer whales, and the steps people can take to minimize their own impact on the eco-system and the survival of wild orcas by:

  • Aiding in the recovery of chinook salmon,
  • Reducing toxins in the ocean,
  • Reducing marine noise pollution and supporting practices to limit disturbance,
  • Viewing wildlife using responsible practices.

Kenmore Air

Kenmore Air is a seaplane airline located near Seattle Washington. It was founded in 1946 by Bob Munro and has been family operated and owned ever since. Flying residents, families, tourists, researchers and doctors to destinations throughout the Pacific Northwest, Kenmore Air carriers over 75,000 passengers every year. The airline has generously donated the aircraft to be transformed into a Killer Whale free of recurring charges standard of a custom sponsored livery. The Orca paint scheme will be on the airplane for 6-10 years, during this time Kenmore Air will also distribute the educational booklets on all of their aircraft and will make them available to the general public at their passenger terminals.

Photo credit:  Carrie Sapp
Photo credit: Carrie Sapp

The Booklet

We will produce a booklet about Wild Orcas. The information will include:
An introduction to Killer Whales in the Northwest,

  • Factors affecting the survival of wild Killer Whales,
  • Changes people can make in their daily lives to help the species recover,
  • Ways people can get involved in Killer Whale conservation,
  • How toxic chemicals find their way from our homes to our waters,
  • Regulations  and best practices for viewing marine mammals from a boat and the shore.
This booklet will be placed in the seatback pockets of every Kenmore Air seaplane for passengers to read and take home. Additionally, it will be available to the public for free at seaplane terminals, marinas, education centers, and other venues.

Other Ways You Can Help

If you are unable to contribute financially, you can still help…

  • Spread the word about this campaign,
  • Visit wildorca.org to learn about the things you can do to make a difference and reverse the trend in the dwindling population of Southern Resident Killer Whales.

View the Indiegogo project, Wild Orca Seaplane to help wild orcas and salmon.

Photo by Traci Walters.
Photo by Traci Walters.

Orca Superpod – Meet Orca Experts From the Film Blackfish, Whale Watch, and Party!

This file photo shows orca whales from the J and K pods swim past a small research boat on Puget Sound in view of downtown Seattle. A marine biologist was fined this week for feeding wild killer whales in California. (AP Photo/NOAA Fisheries Service, Candice Emmons, file)
This file photo shows orca whales from the J and K pods swim past a small research boat on Puget Sound in view of downtown Seattle. AP Photo/NOAA Fisheries Service, Candice Emmons, file)

The Third Gathering of Superpod

 Superpod Three begins on World Orca Day, Monday July 14, 2014, and the last public event is Thursday the 17th.

Location: San Juan Island, Washington

(The information below is from Voice of the Orcas, please check with them for current information. Lodging can be tight on the island in July,  try Vacation Rentals by Owner, as well as the boutique hotels and B&Bs.)

For the third time a diverse collection of killer whale experts & former trainers along with the public will congregate and share information regarding orca populations, including wild and captive animals.  Superpod (SP) events are held during July in conjunction with the Southern Resident orcas which are swimming around San Juan Island chasing Chinook salmon. (The combination of J, K, and L pods together is called a “superpod.” ).

Talks * Whale Watching * Brainstorming * Party!

Not including the many local participants, naturalists, boat & biz operators, Center for Whale Research staff, & more, approximately 35 – 50 additional human Superpod members will migrate to San Juan Island, WA, USA, to learn, present, share, Tweet, blog, plan, get inspired, cross-pollinate, & take stunning photos & videos to share with the world.
These are the real “Blackfish.” And none of them have stage names like Shamu or Namu. (Voice of the Orcas)

 
The location of the Superpod gathering is chosen to promote watching the whales in the wild. This beautiful island is where the first field research was done on the Southern Resident orcas, whose numbers were decimated by captures for the amusement park industry.  They are still struggling to survive.

The contrast between the lives of the captives versus the wild orcas is profound.

A wild, vibrant, male orca. Photo by Simon Piddock
A wild, vibrant, Southern Resident male orca. Photo by Simon Piddock

In sharp contrast to the wild male orcas, Tilikum spends his days and nights bobbing in a tank, while SeaWorld continues to give mis-information (experts on dorsal collapse will be available to explain the reality of droopy dorsal fins). Video provided by Ocean Advocate’s Heather Murphy, she will be at the Superpod gathering and can give more information on Tilikum’s life at SeaWorld, Orlando.

-Monday, July 14th  

Meet & Greet party & first presentation.
 Rachel Carbary
Learn about the dolphin hunts in Taiji, Japan, from a Cove Guardian, Rachel Carbary. Rachel has organized the global #EmptyTheTanks events, and will give a presentation on her experiences at the annual small cetacean slaughter & sale at Taiji, Japan.  She shares: “This past November, when I was in Taiji for a second time, I watched dolphin trainers ride on a skiff with dolphin killers and dead dolphins on board. The slaughter exists because the captivity industry exists.”
Jordan Waltz is A Midwest artist and independent researcher who has served as archivalist/researcher for Blackfish documentary.  She will give a presentation on when and how the drives the started and how they became entwined with the captivity industry, as well as how activists have tried to halt it over the years. Presentation duration will be 20-25 minutes. Jordan will present a printed out illustrated timeline where people can view it & provide feed back.
 
The Whale Museum, Friday Harbor, Washington
The Whale Museum, Friday Harbor, Washington

-Tuesday:   Free film and discussion

Free public Blackfish Screening hosted by the The Whale Museum.
Location of Screening: The Grange, in Friday Harbor
5:30 p.m.  “Meet & Greet” reception
6:00 p.m. Screening of “Blackfish” (83 minute run-time)
7:30 p.m. Q&A with Cast members
8:30 p.m. Adjourn
Wednesday:  Voice of the Orcas (VOTO) will host Media Day, with journalists in attendance.

In the morning VOTO, along with Dr Naomi Rose, is tentatively scheduled to be on L.A. Talk Radio with Capt Paul Watson & the Barbi Twins at 11:00 a.m Pacific time.
There will be interviews & film from the house & deck overlooking the Haro Strait. (See “Voice of the Orcas (VOTO) for details. With luck, orcas may even swim by.

Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, and Dr. Naomi Rose talk about a bill that would set new guidelines for treatment of killer whales in captivity before the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., on Tuesday, April 8, 2014.(AP Photo/Steve Yeater)
Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, and Dr. Naomi Rose talk about a bill that would set new guidelines for treatment of killer whales in captivity before the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., on Tuesday, April 8, 2014.(AP Photo/Steve Yeater)

 
Wednesday evening, Howard Garrett of Orca Network (ON), will give a presentation on Lolita. Rumor has it that there may be very special (Italian) bagna
cualda (similar to fondue) served that evening (via Susan Berta, of Orca Network). Our fingers are crossed.
A presentation on the “Russian orca situation” is in the works via Whale & Dolphin Conservation. The Russian orcas are still hunted for captivity.

Photo by Traci Walters.
Photo by Traci Walters.

Thursday:  Superpod3 Group Whale Watch Trip on the Western Prince II with naturalist Traci Walter (@TeelDubya) and others. The co$t of our Western Prince II boat trip is about $30 USD less than a single day ticket at SeaWorld of Florida.

The excursion departs at 10:00 am from Friday Harbor. We will meet by the Western Prince offices next to the ferry landing between 9:30 – 9:45 a.m.

In the evening  Dr. Naomi Rose will give a presentation on the topic of current legistlative & regulatory issues regarding killer whale / cetacean captivity.

 

Meet the former trainers featured in Blackfish - Jeff Ventre, Samantha Berg, Carol Ray and John Jett.
Meet the former trainers featured in Blackfish – Jeff Ventre, Samantha Berg, Carol Ray and John Jett.
Weekend: Flex Time / Departure. 
If you’ve never seen a wild killer whale, join us this year, or plan to come to Superpod 4 next year!

Incredible Video of False Killer Whales and a Mahi-Mahi (Fish)

Wild Dolphin Foundation's Tori Cullins
Wild Dolphin Foundation’s Tori Cullins

Tori Cullins (CEO & Founder at Wild Dolphin Foundation and Co Owner at Wild Side Specialty Tours) and her crew obtained this fascinating video of a group of false killer whales underwater off the coast of Oahu today.  The whales appear to be using bubbles and fluke slaps to keep a Mahi Mahi corralled.

Apr 30, 2013
PSEUDORCAS!!
(Hawaiian false killer whales!!)
We came across a lovely and spread out pod of false killers today on our Best of the West charter, 04/30/13. These guys were just put on the Endangered Species list in November, 2012, and they are our #1 priority as far as ID shots go. While we were snapping away photo ids we noticed that a small group was causing a splashing ruckus.. Capt’n Tori took us over to check it out.. turned out that the group of False Killers were catching and playing with a Mahi Mahi.. we popped in the Gopro [underwater camera] and here is what we snagged.. listen to them vocalizing (the chirps and squeaky door sounds) and notice how one of them fluke smacks the Mahi Mahi.. sorry for the wobbly shots, it gets exciting out there on the water, wobbly shots are all part of the magic.
— Crew member Kimberly James.


Cascadia Research has been conducting field research on these whales for several years, and their website is full of interesting information, animations, and anecdotes such as this one, where they note that these enchanting whales offer to share their fish with divers and snorkelers (read more here):

Our photo-identification work has demonstrated that Pseudorca have long-term bonds. They share their prey, not only with their companions, but also with humans. A Pseudorca that was alone in British Columbia and Washington from the late 1980s until a few years ago, far from their normal range off Mexico, repeatedly caught large salmon and would offer them to boaters. In Hawaiian waters, Pseudorca have offered fish to human snorkelers and divers.

What these family oriented whales need is a protected environment where they won’t get caught in fishing nets, otherwise this unique population may be unable to survive. In Hawaii a families are known as “Ohana”, a word that seems to apply to these remarkable whales.
Note, this is a corrected version, the original stated that Cascadia Researcher Robin Baird was on board which he was not.

Whales Turn the Tables and Gather to People-Watch

Curious and friendly dwarf minke whales meet curious and friendly humans in this annual meet n’ greet  – and in a remarkable turn around, it is the whales, not the humans, who more or less set the rules for how the interactions take place.  It started with a chance encounter between one man and one whale nearly thirty years ago, and now up to 50 whales come to people watch.


We believe in connecting people with nature in a profound and meaningful way.”

The following information is from the Eye to Eye Marine Encounters and Minke Whale Project websites:
John Rumney and his dedicated team of researchers and crew have been running swim with minke whale trips for 17 years and pioneered the swim with whale experience in Queensland. They were also instrumental in the development of guidelines that ensures all encounters are carried out on the whales’ terms and have now been adopted by industry as World’s Best Practice.

We want to give YOU the best wildlife experience possible in the hope that it will inspire you to protect our marine treasures. Our ethos and reputation has made us the first point of call for documentary film crews, universities and marine institutes around the world. We have been fortunate enough to introduce the beautiful minke whales to IMAX, Galatee (Oceans), National Geographic and the BBC and wish to continue sharing one of world’s most incredible wildlife experiences with others.”

dwarf minke ww“SCUBA versus snorkelling
Studies of in-water interactions with dwarf
minke whales have shown that in most
cases the whales make closer approaches
to snorkellers holding onto a rope at the
surface (Birtles et al., 2001; Valentine,
Birtles, Curnock, Arnold & Dunstan,
2004). By holding onto a rope at the
surface, swimmers maintain a relatively
fixed position and their movements
become more predictable. Snorkellers on
surface ropes are also much more easily
supervised and managed by crew than a
group of scuba divers (who are able to
move in three dimensions).
If both SCUBA divers and snorkellers are
in the water at the same time when whales
are around, scuba divers should stay well
clear of the area underneath the snorkellers
to avoid detracting from the snorkellers’
experience.”

 

Upcoming BBC Show: Humpback Whales Seem to Intervene in Orca Attack on Gray Whale Calf

Humpback whale and transient orca (Copyright Alisa Schulman-Janiger)

On May 3rd, 2012 whale watchers aboard the Monterey Bay Whale Watch boats witnessed one of the most thought proving interactions among three different species of whales ever recorded.  By all accounts, it looked as though several humpback whales tried to prevent transient orcas from killing, then eating a baby gray whale.  The full story and photographs of the event can be found here.
Amazingly, a team of National Geographic filmmakers were present so the encounter was captured on video, and will show in the U.S. on Monday 5/14/12:

HUMPBACKS INTERVENE DURING, AFTER GRAY WHALE ATTACK! PREVIEW VIDEO CLIP FROM UPCOMING NAT GEO WILD PROGRAM NEXT MONDAY: “24/7 Wild”! They filmed this on our boat out of Monterey Bay Whale Watch last Thursday with a gyrostabilized camera: incredible footage! With killer whale researchers Nancy Black and Alisa Schulman-Janiger.

Be sure to set your DVRs to your Nat Geo channel if you can’t be home to watch the coverage of this rarely observed event!

Wild Ways to See Whales – ‘A Better Way to See Orcas’

Wild orca riding in the wake behind the whale watch boat. (travelvancouverisland.com)

Even though a visit to San Juan Island in the far northwest corner of the States is a terrific place to see wild orcas (killer whales), these sleek and dramatic whales inhabit coastal communities throughout most of the world – and the warm climate of Southern California and other areas encourages year round viewing.
Australia, New Zealand, and regions of the North Atlantic also have well studied populations of these whales, and ready access through whale watching companies – and some countries even allow you to swim and dive among these benign giant sized dolphins.
Video cameras show you what is going on underwater. (Hawaiiactive.com)

For most people in the world, it is actually easier and more affordable to go see them in the wild than to make an expensive trek to theme parks, and the best news is that whale watching has come a long way from the days when you had a choice of dank cabins or leaning over rails for fresh air only to get overpowered by diesel fumes.
Friendly whales often approach, an unbeatable experience! (seatrekbaja)

Modern whale watching companies offer an experience that rivals the circus acts of captivity, and has the bonus that no whales are harmed.
Today’s tours strive to be comfortable, and some have embraced the electronic age and are able to virtually put you in the midst of the activity. Hydrophones (underwater microphones) let you hear the sounds the whales and dolphins make as you see them through underwater viewing windows, and webcams allow you to share your experience, real time, with people at home. Staff will take photos and present you with a cd or memory stick for a nominal charge at the end of your trip.
This recently released video was created by The Orca Project, and was made in a joint effort by dolphin expert Dr. Lori Marino and author Leah Lemieux, and contrasts the lives of captive animals and their wild counterparts. This touching video documents the negative effect that captivity has on the whales, both wild and free, and should be viewed by anyone considering what values they want their families to learn from going to see whales and dolphins.

Be sure to visit The Orca Project to learn more about the orcas featured in the video, as well as more about these amazing animals in general.

Learn About Orcas as You Watch from Shore: The Center for Whale Research Launches a New Program

If you are planning to come to Washington state’s San Juan Island this summer, you will be among the first to enjoy a new, free, educational about orcas, and chances are that you will see these beautiful whales from the shoreline.

Lime Kiln State Park and Center for Whale Research Partnership


Senior Research Scientist Ken Balcomb

“The Center for Whale Research is proud to announce a unique partnership with Lime Kiln Point State Park. Local park management has accepted our proposal to operate a park-wide outreach and education program. The focus will be on killer whales and environmental stewardship.  Additionally, basic interpretive information about the park’s main historical attractions will continue to be provided.”
“The frequent and regular sightings from this unobtrusive land-based viewpoint inspire many park visitors to better appreciate the environment around them.  The unprecedented history of the Center for Whale Research coupled with the park as a platform for education will create a unique and meaningful experience for park visitors.  The goal is to inform the public and inspire action to assure a healthy environment for the killer whales and the Salish Sea on which they depend.”
For more information on this program, and to learn more about the Center’s 35 years of research on this population of orcas, you can go to this link:  The Center for Whale Research

Why These Orcas Need The Whale Watching Boats

Given that the effort to save the Southern Resident orcas is sort of a ‘darned if you do, darned if you don’t’ situation on levels that are tough to resolve – do we leave Chinook salmon for the whales and impact fisheries? Do we prohibit naval sonar tests to protect the whales’ hearing and risk diminished security? – the issue of whether, or how close, to allow whale watch boats to approach the orcas seems pretty straightforward. The question boils down to whether or not the whales’ behavior changes when the whale watching boats are present, and if so, how? In answering this for myself, I was in for a big surprise, and have wound up reversing my opinion on the subject.

Picture
Exuberance! (Photo by Candace Whiting)

All summer, whenever I could, I watched the orcas. I watched the boats. I trudged around the shores of San Juan Island with binoculars, camera, handycam, tide tables, and a current atlas. I watched from shore and from boats. I stayed in the background as much as possible and I talked to tourists about their opinions. I took my friends and relatives with me until they couldn’t take another hour of sitting on rocks, as inconceivable as that may be. And I noticed some fascinating things that altered not just my opinion, but the way I see the the orcas themselves.

Picture
Canada’s Strait Watch helps inform boaters of the whale watching guidelines (Photo by Candace Whiting)

The apparent answer for me to the question ‘does the presence of boats negatively affect the whales behavior’ did turn out to be straightforward: the answer is seldom – given the efforts of the whale watching industry to stay within voluntary guidelines (and the presence of Sound Watch and Strait Watch vessels). I never saw the orcas go into a rest pattern when there were hoards of boats around them, although I did see the whales in that pattern when they were inshore and the boats stayed 1/4 mile off…but that was about it. As a matter of fact, time and again the orcas would charge over to largest fast moving vessels (usually commercial fishing boats) in the area.
There is a phenomenon often referred to as ‘evaporating whales’, when whatever orcas are nearby just disappear. One minute they are swimming all around, the next they are just gone. There is nothing gradual about it, it happens in the blink of an eye – sometimes you will see them surface far away, but usually they disappear without a trace. Amazingly, on two different occasions I watched from shore as these wily beasties pulled this stunt – only to reappear just as suddenly once the whale watching boats left. It would seem that the orcas know how to ditch the boats when they have had enough.

Picture
At times the orcas are spread out over miles (photo by Candace Whiting)

Sometimes the orcas will stretch themselves out for miles along the shoreline in small groups or the occasional solitary individual, and at times they pepper themselves out not just along the shoreline, but for miles offshore as well. If the water is at all rough it becomes a needle in the haystack effort to locate them. In those cases the whale watch boats naturally gravitate to the whales which are breaching and splashing – always a crowd pleaser – leaving the remaining groups in peace. Several times in the early summer adult/calf pairs would hang out quietly near shore with no boats nearby, and I could see other orcas breaching not far down island surrounded by boats. It looked like the calves were learning how to catch fish, but that is just a guess.
The final piece of the puzzle fell into place for me just recently. It was a gorgeous, warm day, the seas were calm, and the whales were active. The boats were thick on the orcas, and the ‘watch’ vessels had their hands full keeping the small pleasure boats informed as to the guidelines of safe whale watching. I was perched on a boulder video taping the scene when a commercial fishing boat cut between the whale watching boats and the shore, right through the group of whales. I was a bit worried about the whales…until I watched in surprise as the orcas regrouped then headed for that big, loud, fast moving vessel. I had seen them do this before, but usually farther offshore where it was harder to tell what was going on. There was no mistaking it this time – the whales swam over, and started to slap the water with their flukes (tails). They rolled around and just seemed to enjoy the turbulent water generated by the boat, and didn’t seem to attempt to ride the boat’s wake.

Picture
Victoria Clipper (photo by Candace Whiting)

Watching that made me wonder if the orcas take advantage of ship generated turbulence to help drive salmon, and I wondered about that again yesterday as I bobbed in a small boat and witnessed similar behavior when the huge Victoria Clipper came on the scene.
Maybe the orcas have figured out that when they are ‘putting on a show’, boats will often slow down. Or perhaps it is just exciting for them to be in any kind of turbulent water, the captain of the yesterday’s boat voiced this thought, saying that he noticed that the whales seem to be more active in tidal rips (where the incoming tide collides with slow moving water).

Picture
Double tail lobbing (photo by Candace Whiting)

Researchers know that the orcas are in communication over a mile or more, and it is conceivable that the whales may have figured out that they can distract the boats away when they want. The whales were known to do this during the captures that took place for amusement parks back in the 1960s and 70s, when the females and calves would dive and the males would swim off on the surface, luring the captors away.
The only way to find out what is going on with the orcas is to spend more time watching them, which is why it is so important to continue to permit the whale watching boats to get close enough to the orcas to really observe them. Those men and women are out there every single day, all day long, and their only agenda is to bring people out to see the whales – but they notice things that might otherwise be overlooked. Scientists don’t have the budget or the staff to be out there all day, every day; the funding just isn’t there – also scientists tend to have very specific, narrow questions they ask when they do go out on the water with the orcas.
The whale watch boats are able to police each other, and keep an eye out for uninformed boaters. They watch for new calves, note the condition of the orcas, and report back to researchers if there are problems. The vessels with naturalists on board can, and do, keep notes on which individual whales are there, which whales hang out with which, and where they are.
NOAA is in the final stages of deciding how to protect this small population of endangered whales, and I hope they can find a good balance point without cutting off the whale watching boats, and with them the ability to watch over the orcas.
If it turns out to be true that the whales have ways of ditching the boats when they need to, that they are smart enough to distract us with their antics so that the vulnerable members can forage and rest, and that they have found ways to take advantage of the effect some of the vessels have in their environment, I can see no reason to further limit the whale watchers among this population of orcas.

As I write this, warm and toasty by my computer, those boats are out in the cold, blustery rain on the west side of San Juan Island. Watching, and watching over, the orcas.
Please take our poll on whale watching: The Center for Whale Research