[MARMAM] New Publication: Commercial whale-watching reduces vessel incidents in the vicinity of killer whales in Washington State

Monika Wieland monika.wieland at gmail.com
Fri Sep 23 09:14:02 PDT 2022

Dear MARMAM Community,

I'm pleased to announce the publication of a new study in the journal 
Marine Policy: "Commercial whale-watching reduces vessel incidents in 
the vicinity of killer whales in Washington State".


There is increasing focus on the impacts of whale-watching on marine 
mammal species around the world. In the inland waters of Washington 
State and British Columbia, a region known as the Salish Sea, killer 
whales (Orcinus orca) are protected by regulations to help mitigate the 
acoustic and physical disturbance from small vessels. Most recently, the 
State of Washington implemented a commercial whale-watching licensing 
program that restricts viewing hours of whale-watching vessels within 
one-half nautical mile of endangered Southern Resident killer whales to 
four hours a day during three months of the year. During the development 
of these regulations, an identified data gap was regarding the “sentinel 
effect”, a question of whether the presence of commercial whale-watching 
vessels can help mitigate speed and distance incidents by private 
vessels via modeling correct viewing behavior and/or by directly 
contacting vessels to prevent such incidents from occurring. This pilot 
study conducted five months of boat-based and shore-based data 
collection on vessel incidents in the proximity of two killer whale 
populations in the Salish Sea. A negative binomial model predicts a 
significant decrease in mean estimated incidents per hour by private 
vessels in the presence of commercial whale-watching vessels, while 
there was no significant difference in the presence of boater education 
vessels. This study provides the first quantitative support for the 
sentinel effect, a finding that should be analyzed further in ongoing 
studies and incorporated into the adaptive management of vessel 
regulations, especially those that restrict only commercial 
whale-watching vessels.

The full paper is available open access here:

Monika Wieland Shields
Director, Orca Behavior Institute
Friday Harbor, WA
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