[MARMAM] NOAA issues new rules to safeguard Puget Sound’s Killer Whales

Jonathan Shannon Jonathan.Shannon at noaa.gov
Wed Apr 20 11:11:20 PDT 2011

*NOAA issues new rules to safeguard Puget Sound’s Killer Whales *

/Endangered whales to be given wider berth /

NOAA’s Fisheries Service issued new rules April 14, 2011 on vessel 
traffic, aimed at protecting Southern Resident killer whales in 
Washington’s Puget Sound. These charismatic marine mammals, popular with 
tourists, whale-watch operators and the general public, were added to 
the Endangered Species list in late 2005.

The Southern Resident population peaked at 97 animals in the 1990s, and 
then declined to 79 in 2001. It has seen slow growth since then, and now 
stands at an estimated 86 killer whales, about half of which are 
sexually mature. Scientists have identified the major threats facing the 
population as a shortage of its preferred prey of Chinook salmon, 
disturbance from vessels, and water pollution.

The new rules prohibit vessels from approaching any killer whale closer 
than 200 yards and forbid vessels from intercepting a whale or 
positioning the vessel in its path. This doubles the current approach 
distance of 100 yards. The rules go into effect May 16 and apply to all 
types of boats, including motor boats, sail boats and kayaks, in 
Washington’s inland waters.

Exemptions to the rules for safety include vessels actively fishing 
commercially, cargo vessels travelling in established shipping lanes, 
and government and research vessels.

The whales, which depend on their highly sophisticated natural sonar to 
navigate and find food, can be affected by underwater noise from boats 
and disturbed by vessels, including non-motorized ones, that approach 
too close or block their paths. The agency’s killer whale recovery plan, 
released in early 2008, calls for actions to reduce disturbance from 

When the regulations were originally proposed in July 2009, they 
included a half-mile wide no-go zone along the west side of San Juan 
Island from May 1 through the end of September, where vessels were 
prohibited. Due to the extensive responses that were received during the 
public comment period, the final regulations do not include the no-go 
zone, and NOAA’s Fisheries Service will instead continue to gather 
information to consider the concept in future rulemaking.

See the Fisheries Northwest Region Website for more information on this 


Jonathan Shannon
NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources
Outreach Specialist
(301) 713-2319 x 117
jonathan.shannon at noaa.gov

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