Feds consider a proposed protection zone for killer whales off Washington

Time is running out as Thursday, April 13 is the last day for public comment on a petition calling for establishment of a protection zone for endangered Southern Resident killer whales on the west side Washington’s San Juan Island.

The November 2016 petition from the Orca Relief Citizens’ Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, and Project Seawolf asks NOAA Fisheries to establish a protected zone “free of motorized boat traffic to promote recovery of Southern Residents, which now number 78 whales,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a news release Thursday.

NOAA Fisheries considered a similar protection zone in 2009 and, while the agency adopted regulations in 2011 requiring boats to stay 200 yards from the whales, it did not adopt a protected zone "in light of strong opposition at the time," the news release said.

“To be effective, regulations require a degree of public acceptance, and we did not see sufficient support for a protected area in 2011,” said Lynne Barre, NOAA Fisheries recovery coordinator for the Southern Resident killer whales. “The petition presents an opportunity to revisit that idea and get input from the public on this type of protection for the whales.”

NOAA said studies indicate that the whales forage less in the presence of boat traffic, and boat noise may disrupt the echolocation clicks the whales use to find food.

NOAA Fisheries filed its request for public comments in the Federal Register Thursday and it was supposed to be online by Friday, Jan. 13, with a comment period of 90 days.

The agency said the public comments will help NOAA Fisheries decide whether to take further action on the petition.

According to the request for public comments, you can submit information on this document identified by NOAA-NMFS-
2016-0152 and the petition by either of the following methods:

Electronic submission: Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal www.regulations.gov. Click the “Comment Now!” icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments.

Mail or hand-delivery: Lynne Barre, NMFS West Coast Region, 7600 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115.