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Moratorium on southern resident killer whale watching recommended

Whale Watching Boat

EDMONDS, Wash. -- Whale watching the majestic southern resident killer whales on Puget Sound could soon be suspended. It’s a recommendation for the governor from the Orca Task Force. The move would need legislative action and possible funding.

“It’s one of the few steps we can take that will make an immediate positive impact,” said State Senator Kevin Ranker who is a member of the Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force.

According the Pacific Whale Watching Association, approximately 30 whale watching companies are working on the water between Seattle and Nanaimo, British Columbia.

Thousands of people step onto whale watching boats throughout Puget Sound every year. And what they see is nothing short of spectacular – humpback, minke and two types of orca whales, Including the endangered southern residents that are starving to death.

Late Tuesday, the Governor’s Orca Task Force decided on 36 recommendations that could help save the whales from extinction -- including suspending commercial and recreational whale watching for southern residents for the next 3 to 5 years. The move would reduce boat traffic and help the whales hunt for food.

Researchers say reducing boat traffic must be the first step to mitigating the problem because white noise makes it difficult for the whales to find salmon.

“Ten percent of the time we are watching the southern residents,” said Christopher Hanke who is the operations manager for Puget Sound Express Whale Watching who has been whale watching on the Sound for 30 years.

The south resident killer whales aren’t around as much because of the dwindling Chinook Salmon supply.

Hanke told KOMO News a possible moratorium on watching the southern residents would have little impact on his family’s whale watching business since most of the whales they see are transient orcas, humpbacks and minkes.

But there is concern from the whale watching industry because they say this recommendation was a last-minute move by the Orca Task Force.

“It did not have the same process as all the other recommendations that are going to the Governor so we were very surprised by that,” said Jeff Friedman who is the U.S. President of the Pacific Whale Watch Association.

Critics say the recommendation doesn't address that barge and commercial fishing boats are far louder vessels or the Orcas dwindling food supply.

“The best thing that’s going to help the whales is salmon,” said Hanke.

Only 74 whales remain in the southern resident population.

If the recommendation becomes law Washington State Fish and Wildlife would be in charge of rules and regulation.

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