We haven’t yet crunched the numbers, but it appears that new orca whale watching rules for the San Juan Islands of Washington have not had any impact on our killer whale watching kayak trips’ success rate this year. We will publish our June 2011 results in a few days so stay tuned our blog!
Most of our kayaking encounters with the killer whales are admittedly at greater distances this year, but there are no regulations that prevent orca whales from approaching us! Check out our YouTube Channel for orca whale watching and kayaking San Juan Islands to see a video from this June of two orca whale pods swimming right up to our kayaks while we rest in a kelp forest in a protected cove. Some of the orcas passed within 10 meters of our kayaks as they rubbed themselves in the kelp. Others breached less than 30 meters away! You can hear all the excited commentary from the guests and guides on the video so be sure to check it out.
New Rules for Orca Whale Watching on San Juan Islands Kayaking Tours
Kayaking tours, individual kayaks, and most other boats traveling the San Juan Islands need to be aware of new federal orca whale watching rules. The new federal rules double the approach distance to 200 yards, superceding the prior rule of 100 yards set by Washington state law. Kayaks must also clear a path in the whales line of travel out to 400 yards.
Orca Whales in the San Juan Islands are Endangered and Need Help to Survive
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the federal agency in charge of protecting whales and endangered marine wildlife, created the new whale watching regulations due to scientific research indicating noise from motorized boats impacts the whales’ ability to hunt and causes stress. As biologists and conservationists with decades of experience around whales, we agreed with this and urged the new rules to be applied to all motorized vessels.
Unfortunately, NMFS inexplicably exempted the largest and noisiest vessels but applied them to silent sea kayaks! One wonders if anyone in this federal agency understands what a kayak is? When asked why the regulations were applied to silent sea kayaks, the agency was unable to provide any scientific reason or data to support the decision.
We will be discussing the new killer whale watching regulations for the San Juan Islands in another blog article that will appear in a couple of days. There are some serious problems with the new rules and the federal agency that created them.