Petition to

The Endangered Southern Resident Orca of Puget Sound are dying. An Orca Whale Protection Zone can reduce the noise and disturbance the Orca experience and help save them from extinction.

We, the undersigned, call upon the National Marine Fisheries Service to establish an Orca Whale Protection Zone on the West Side of San Juan Island, Washington.

I support the creation of an Orca Whale Protection Zone for the critically endangered Southern Resident Orca Whales, now down to 78 individuals and declining. One key to saving these beloved whales from extinction is less noise and disturbance from vessels. This can be achieved soon if the National Marine Fisheries Service establishes an Orca Whale Protection Zone in Puget Sound.

Thank you for your support. We intend to deliver your signature to NMFS in early 2016.

Bruce J. Stedman, Executive Director, Orca Relief Citizens’ Alliance

Petition Background

More than three years ago, on April 14, 2011, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) established regulations under the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act that were intended to protect the endangered Southern Resident Orca whales from vessel noise and disturbance in Puget Sound and the Salish Sea. While those regulations established a 200 yard separation for boats from individual whales, and prohibited “parking in the path” of the whales, they did not include the originally proposed Whale Protection Zone (WPZ) on the west side of San Juan Island in the core of the Orca’s Critical Habitat. (The 2011 regulations were not intended to address other factors that NMFS had found as threats to the survival of the Orca; decreasing food sources, toxic water pollution, and oil spills. These are addressed in the Recovery Plan for Southern Resident Orca Whales.)

Despite a plan and new regulations, the Southern Resident Orca remain endangered and are declining, not recovering, with the most recent census count of just 81 members (for J, K, and L Pods combined). This is the lowest number since 2001 (based on publicly available data from NMFS and the Center for Whale Research) – the Orca are no better off now than more than decade ago.

Over a decade of research by NMFS and other scientists has determined that the Southern Resident Orca are harmed by a dangerous ladder of factors:

  1. In years of low Chinook salmon returns, Orca are under stress to find food;
  2. Constant pursuit by vessels that include the commercial motorized whale watching fleet leads to increased stress levels, increased metabolic rates and an increased need for food, while simultaneously reducing their sonar – and therefore hunting – efficiency. This is happening during daylight hours from May to October; and then
  3. As whales starve, they consume the toxins locked in their blubber reserves, which very likely harm their reproductive capacity and overall health.

Unfortunately, in the newly established regulations, NMFS did not include the geographic Whale Protection Zone the agency originally proposed. A WPZ on the west side of San Juan Island is a key missing piece of regulatory protection that will give the best chance of saving the Orca population from extinction.

Therefore, to prevent further harm and to begin the recovery of this endangered species, we, the undersigned call upon NMFS to rapidly begin the regulatory process needed to establish a Whale Protection Zone on the west side of San Juan Island, Washington.