Seattle December 10, 2014 - Orca Relief offers a new report to the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) this week, outlining ideas for the creation of a Whale Protection Zone (WPZ) off San Juan Island. The WPZ would give these endangered whales shelter from the noise and disturbance they encounter throughout the summer months. Orca Relief is urging NMFS to immediately begin the public process necessary to create a WPZ to help reverse the decline of the Puget Sound Orca.
The report provides a map and detailed information about how a Whale Protection Zone might be designed. Orca Relief is proposing a 3/4 mile wide protection zone (see map below) that to take effect between April 15 and October 15 and include a "no-wake" speed limit. Orca Relief is also recommending NMFS consider other management, enforcement, and education ideas, including a permit system for commercial whale watching. A copy of the report is available at www.orcarelief.org.
In 2005, NMFS listed the Southern Resident Killer Whale population as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. There are now only 77 individual Orca; declining drastically from a peak of 98 in 1995. The population is now at its lowest level since 1985.
Actions taken by NMFS have not recovered the Southern Residents and, based on the recent trend, have not been sufficient to stabilize the orca population. The current vessel separation rules, established Critical Habitat, and existing voluntary "no-go-zone" are not providing enough protection. Future recovery efforts will be complicated due to the whales' distorted age-sex composition and declining reproductive capacity.
"We all want to increase salmon and reduce toxins in Puget Sound, but that could take decades and loads of scarce public money," says Bruce Stedman, Executive Director of Orca Relief Citizens Alliance. "Creating a Whale Protection Zone for this population can be achieved relatively easily, inexpensively, and quickly."