Whale Watch Association sets new guidelines

‘Sensible steps,’ Edmonds’ Puget Sound Express president says
By Brian Soergel | May 16, 2018
Courtesy of: Matt Kennelly Spectators check out the whales during a recent trip aboard the 149-seat M/V Saratoga, Puget Sound Expresses’ newest boat. It departs on half-day tours from the Port of Edmonds through Dec. 31.

The Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA), a group of 32 whale watch and ecotourism business operators in Washington and British Columbia, has announced an update to its vessel operation guidelines, with a focus on safe operation for both commercial and private vessels around whales.

It’s an agreement supported by Puget Sound Express, the family-run whale watching company that has been operating whale and wildlife cruises for three years from the Port of Edmonds and 33 years from Port Townsend.

The PWWA says the updated standards are the most comprehensive in the world, and continue its commitment to self-regulation to protect and support the growth of whale populations in the Salish Sea.

"As a founding member of PWWA, our family has a deep respect and admiration for the whales and wildlife that call our waters home,” Puget Sound Express President Peter Hanke said.

“We view orcas, humpbacks and gray whales as extensions of our own family, and believe that these guidelines are sensible steps to help ensure that future generations will continue to be able to learn from and protect these amazing animals. We encourage all boaters to observe these guidelines."

The guidelines include:

• A slow zone of 7 knots within 1 kilometer of whales;

• Maintaining a distance of 200 yards from southern resident killer whales;

• A suggested limited viewing time of 60 minutes in the vicinity of a group of whales and a 30-minute limit if there are 10 or more vessels within 1 kilometer of whales;

• Travel should always be parallel to the direction of travel of the whales and at the whale’s speed or slower;

• All sonar, depth sounders, fish finders and other underwater transducers should be shut off whenever a vessel is in the vicinity of whales; and

• Mandated special, precautionary operation guidelines in the vicinity of marine protected areas at Race Rocks in Canada and the west side of San Juan Island.

“These updates represent the most stringent and precautionary guidelines our organization has ever passed as we continue to develop the most progressive guidelines to protect the whale populations that live and visit our region,” PWWA U.S. President Jeff Friedman said.

“As the owners and operators of commercial whale watching vessels throughout Washington and British Columbia, we spend more collective time on the water than any other group, and we are committed to seeing whale populations thrive. These guidelines go beyond government and provincial regulations, and PWWA will continue to lead the way in developing the standard for whale watch guidelines for both commercial and private vessels.”

For the past 20 years, PWWA and its members have engaged in the most stringent and progressive guidelines for operating vessels around whales. These standards became the blueprint for NOAA Fisheries, Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada as they drafted regulations to mitigate vessel impacts to orcas and other whales.



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