OLYMPIA – With summer approaching, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is reminding recreational boaters and paddlers that a new state law to protect orca whales goes into effect today (June 12).
The new law, approved during the last legislative session, establishes rules for boaters and paddlers, including a requirement that vessels stay at least 100 yards away from southern resident orca whales.
“Orca whales are vulnerable to human disturbances, including boat traffic,” WDFW Deputy Enforcement Chief Mike Cenci said. “It’s important that boaters and other vessel operators follow the rules and do what they can to avoid interfering with these animals.”
The majority of orca whales found in Washington from early spring to late fall are members of the southern resident orca population, which mostly travel the waters of northern Puget Sound, said Cenci.
Under the new law, boaters who unexpectedly come within 100 yards of southern resident orcas are required to stop immediately, put the engine in neutral and allow the whales to pass. The law also makes it unlawful to feed the whales.
Boaters who violate the new state law could be fined up to $500, said Cenci.
The southern resident orca population, which totals about 90 whales, are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act and the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act. Harassing or disturbing marine mammals also can result in federal fines.
“With this new state law, WDFW enforcement officers – who conduct the majority of the marine patrols – can provide another layer of protection for orca whales in Washington’s waters,” Cenci said.
For more information on how to avoid disturbing orca whales, as well as other marine mammals, visit http://www.bewhalewise.org.