*Afterthought #107—Give Them Space

The births of three Southern Resident Killer Whales since September 2020 have generated excitement and hope for these threatened sea mammals. As I wrote in previous posts, it’s thrilling to receive news of these calves and their pods. At the same time, Kelly Susewind, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, reminds us, “We need to continue to do everything we can to help give these special Southern Resident orcas the best chance at survival.”

While temperatures are still a bit chilly for lots of boating, tourists and boat owners are still enthusiastic to see the new infants in J and L pods. “We urge boaters in the area to ‘be whale wise’ …and operate with extra caution in the Southern Resident killer whale habitat,” says Alanna Frayne, coordinator of the Whale Museum’s Be Whale Wise program. “With the exciting arrival of L125, in addition to the young calves in J Pod, it’s critical that this population is able to forage undisturbed.”

Vessel traffic can interrupt echolocation clicks the whales use to find fish. This is especially problematic for pregnant or nursing mothers. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries published research in January 2021 that indicated females often give up foraging when boats approach within four hundred yards. The Be Whale Wise campaign was started to help protect orcas from these disturbances.

One tool to be whale wise is the Whale Warning Flag. It was developed to promote and strengthen a consistent message of boating behavior to protect whales throughout the Salish Sea. The flag is raised when whales are within 0.65 miles (1 km) of a boat or land-based site and are taken down as soon as the boat or whales have moved out of the area.

IF YOU HAVE A FLAG:

  • When you encounter whales within 0.65 miles (1km) of you, raise the flag.
  • Slow down to 7 knots or less.
  • Maintain compliance with Be Whale Wise Guidelines and laws.
  • Turn off fish finders and/or depth sounders.

IF YOU SEE A FLAG:

  • Whales are in the vicinity of the boat or land station flying the flag..
  • Slow down to 7 knots or less.
  • Turn off fish finders and/or depth sounders.
  • Maintain compliance with Be Whale Wise Guidelines and laws.

For more information about whale warning flags, visit the San Juan County Marine Resources Committee.

During this vulnerable first year of life for orca calves, whether we’re boaters or not, let’s do all we can to give space to whale babies and their mothers.

*Afterthoughts are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, previous posts, maybe even bumper stickers and refrigerator magnets.

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