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

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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.”

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