US Coast Guard Encourages Safe Whale Watching Practices

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SEATTLE — The Coast Guard has launched Operation Be Whale Wise to encourage the public to practice safe whale watching this summer in the Pacific Northwest.

Operation Be Whale Wise, which began Friday, is an effort to educate the public through outreach and law enforcement activities, as well as to increase public management of orcas through the engagement of citizen science, the Coast Guard said in a news release.

The Coast Guard works closely with several partner agencies focused on public education and awareness within the boating community, including enforcing buffer zones and other vessel regulations in place to protect the boating population. resident killer whales of southern Puget Sound.

Puget Sound and the Salish Sea are home to many species of marine mammals. The most recognized of these is the southern resident killer whale.

This species is a distinct population of orcas that are genetically unique from their transient counterparts. They evolved to feed on fish instead of mammals. The southern resident killer whales are critically endangered, with just 74 members remaining as of May 31.

Federal regulations prohibit vessels from approaching killer whales within 200 yards or from parking in their path.

In 2019, the state enacted regulations requiring vessels to stay at least 300 yards to either side or 400 yards ahead or behind killer whales. Additionally, national regulations require vessels within half a mile of orcas to reduce their speed to less than 7 knots.

To date, 13 southern residents have been found to be in vulnerable conditions, the Coast Guard said, adding that four may be pregnant.

The state passed an emergency rule to prevent commercial whale-watching vessels from approaching individuals or groups within 0.5 nautical miles.

The Coast Guard has issued these guidelines:

• Keep your distance: Do not approach or get too close to marine life and stay within 0.5 nautical miles. Look in all directions before planning your approach to view wildlife. Slow down and reduce your speed to less than 7 knots when you are within half a mile of the nearest marine mammal to reduce your engine noise and vessel wake.

• Pay attention: be alert to the presence of marine mammals. Whales can change direction or surface unpredictably. Walk away slowly and carefully at the first sign of disturbance or agitation.

• Pay attention to your boat: put the engine in neutral or stop and let the animals pass if your boat does not comply with the regulations. If safe to do so, turn off your fish finder and echo sounders as well.

• Be Courteous: Stay on the broad side of the whales when they move close to shore. Always avoid crossing groups of porpoises or dolphins. Stay the course and gradually reduce speed to discourage forward or backward driving.

• Report Whale Sightings: The WhaleReport app helps mariners and members of the public practice citizen science by providing an easy-to-use tool right on their tablet or smartphone that displays whale safe zones. The app also allows the user to report any live, dead or distressed whale sightings to the appropriate response agency.

Be Whale Wise is a coordinated effort between the United States and Canada with the participation of several business, non-profit, and environmental non-governmental organizations.

For more information, see bewhalewise.org.

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