for the Salish Sea ecosystem. Once host to the largest salmon fisheries in the world, over the last 150 years, Pacific Northwest salmon populations have been severely diminished by overfishing, dams, and toxic waste. According to the SeaDoc Society, between 2008 and 2011, the number of marine wildlife species in the Salish Sea listed as threatened or endangered nearly doubled from 64 to 113.
Time is running out
for the Southern Resident Killer Whales (also referred to as SRKWs, orcas, and Southern Residents) in Washington State’s Salish Sea. These once-pristine waters are the ancestral home of orcas, whose numbers have been declining. An estimated 200 orcas lived in the sea prior to the 20th century. The SRKWs were placed on the federal Endangered Species list in 2005.
Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s Orca Task Force recommended a moratorium on Southern Resident whale-watching, but it was eliminated during the legislative process. However, the San Juan County charter allows voters to put a people’s initiative on the ballot, offering a unique opportunity for voters here to create immediate relief for our neighbors while government officials pursue longer-term solutions identified by the task force.
A group of local residents formed the Southern Resident Protection Campaign. They’ve worked closely with lawyers as well as former Executive Director of the US Marine Mammal Commission, Dr. Timothy Ragen, to create Initiative 2019-9 that would provide immediate relief for the starving whales. Initiative campaign leaders believe “the condition of the SRKWs is so poor, they just cannot handle the level of vessel noise and disturbance they experience during the summer season while trying to feed in their core critical habitat.”
With a few exceptions, the initiative would create a 650-yard vessel-free protected area around the whales when they are in San Juan County waters. It would help ensure the whales have access to at least 90% of their foraging habitat and would increase their hunting efficiency and effectiveness. In 2015, 96 commercial whale-watching boats operated in the Salish Sea, up from 63 in 1999. The initiative’s restrictions would take effect Jan. 1, 2020, in time for next year’s heavy whale-watching season.
The 650-yard distance is the minimum needed to ensure that vessel noise and disturbance don’t mask the Southern Residents’ ability to use sound for hunting, communicating, and detecting threats (visit https://www.southernresidentprotection.org/about-us for recordings of orca call in quiet waters and underwater vessel noise). The closer the vessels are to the whales, the greater the impacts of their noise and presence on the orcas’ ability to find fish (Chinook/King salmon are their primary prey), rest, communicate, socialize, and travel.
Time is running out
for the Southern Resident Protection Campaign’s ballot initiative to increase distance regulations for the SRKWs in San Juan County waters. Because the Southern Residents have historically spent most of their summers in San Juan County waters, voters here have a unique opportunity San Juan County registered voters must sign a petition in order for this initiative to make it onto the November ballot. Petitions are available in many locations on all of the San Juan islands, and the deadline for signing is July 5. Do you have more questions about the initiative? Visit https://www.southernresidentprotection.org/faq. If you’re a San Juan County voter and either haven’t yet signed or know someone who hasn’t, please do so right away, because