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New rules to distance boats from endangered orcas start today

Going on a whale watching tour is a popular activity in the border waters between Washington State and British Columbia. New rules that take effect  Monday require vessels to give a wider berth to the iconic resident killer whales. KPLU's Tom Banse reports from one of the home ports of the whale watching fleet, in Victoria. Over the course of today, a half dozen companies will set out on whale watch tours just from the harbor front where I’m standing. When they spot the photogenic orca whales in U.S. waters, vessels will now have to stay 200 yards back. That’s double the previous buffer. But the minimum distance stays at 100 meters when the whales cross into Canada. Zoologist and whale watch boat captain Anna Hall of Victoria says our neighboring countries have perhaps unwittingly created “a natural experiment. ”

“With the United State changing the rules, it is setting ourselves up to be able to see if we see behavioral differences at 100 and 200 with the two sets of operating guidelines.”

US regulators say they’re working with their Canadian counterparts to sync up their rules, which are meant to reduce underwater noise and disturbance to the endangered orcas. The same buffer distances apply to recreational boaters as to commercial whale watch operators.

On the web:

NOAA Fisheries:

Pacific Whale Watch Association:

Copyright 2011 Northwest News Network

Correspondent Tom Banse is an Olympia-based reporter with more than three decades of experience covering Washington and Oregon state government, public policy, business and breaking news stories. Most of his career was spent with public radio's Northwest News Network, but now in semi-retirement his work is appearing on other outlets.