New rules for boats offer greater protection of Puget Sound orcas

A federal agency issued new rules last week aimed at protecting Puget Sound’s resident orcas, which were added to the endangered species list in 2005. 

The new rules, issued by the NOAA Fisheries and which go into effect next month, prohibit boats from coming within 200 yards of the whales, doubling the current approach distance of 100 yards. They also prohibit vessels from positioning themselves in orcas’ paths of travel.

Ann Stateler, also known as “Orca Annie,” a whale expert who runs the Vashon Hydrophone Project, said the new rules were a positive step towards protecting orcas, as boat noise can interfere with the whales’ ability to hunt.

“I think every little bit helps,” she said.

Stateler added that while recent regulation changes have mainly affected the area around the San Juan Islands, she was pleased to see new rules that apply to the entire Sound.

However, she said, she worried that like in the San Juans it may prove difficult for NOAA to enforce the new rules.



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