In Olympia, state lawmakers are considering stronger protections for the critically endangered population of resident killer whales.
A proposal to require boaters to slow down to no more than seven knots within 400 yards of orcas drew universal praise during an initial public hearing Tuesday.
Democratic Senator Kevin Ranker, the bill’s prime sponsor, said slower boats equal quieter boats.
"We know conclusively now—and we didn't 10 years ago—that noise pollution has an incredible impact on these whales,” Ranker sad. “These whales communicate and hunt through echolocation and other forms of basically, sonar. When vessels are going by they create a tremendous amount of noise which causes increased stress for these animals and also makes them have a far more difficult time hunting for salmon."
Ranker's proposal would also forbid recreational aircraft and drones from approaching closer than 200 yards to an endangered orca. That's the same standoff distance required of whale watching boats.
The state Senate bill also proposes to increase spending on marine patrols to enforce the distance and speed limits.
"While I am tremendously heartened about this bill, my only concern is it doesn't go far enough fast enough," said Donna Sandstrom, founder and director of the Seattle-based education and conservation nonprofit The Whale Trail. "Distance requirements alone are not working. The status quo is not working. I think and I hope the Department of Fish and Wildlife will consider a permitting system that limits the number of (whale watching) boats, the number of hours they are with the whales, perhaps where they can be with the whales."