MARINE MAMMALS — In May, Department of Fish and Wildlife Officers will be back on the water enforcing the laws that protect Puget Sound Orcas.
“There’s an incentive to get close to those whales and give your client that photo of a lifetime,” said the department’s Deputy Chief, Mike Cenci said in a story moved by the Associated Press. “There’s a lot of pressure there.”
On an undercover trip aboard the “Serengeti” out of Victoria, officers recorded the captain giving his philosophy on following the law.
“I’ve had several close passes and it’s not good when enforcement is around but it’s kind of like you speed when the cops aren’t around right?” the captain said.
According to Fish and Wildlife officials, officers were on the water patrolling vessels near the Orcas 15 days out of the entire five-month season.
On the limited patrols last summer officers issued five citations, three of which were issued to commercial whale watch boats.
Read on for details from the AP report.
The first ticket was issued to the Prince of Whales of Victoria, B.C. According to the incident report, the operator of the “Ocean Magic II” positioned himself in the path of oncoming whales and at one point was only 30 feet from an Orca.
Officers ticketed two other Canadian whale watch boats, Seabreeze Adventures and Sea Quest Adventures. Passengers on the Seabreeze boat reported whales surfacing within 10-12 feet of the boat.
The fourth ticket went to a private pilot from Idaho, who repeatedly swooped down within 20 yards of a pod of Orcas.
The final ticket went to the owner a private fishing boat from Bellevue. He came within 30 feet of a female Orca and her calf.
“We know current efforts are inadequate,” said Cenci. “We certainly need some financial help in order to boost our presence.”
The Department of Fish and Wildlife is waiting news on a grant from NOAA that would pay for an additional officer dedicated to monitoring the Orcas.
Cenci is also waiting for word from Washington D.C. that would ask his officers to enforce a 200-yard viewing distance and keep boats from entering a half mile no-go zone on the west side of San Juan Island. It’s a proposal he had hoped would be in place before the season starts.
“We’re going to be coming in late in the game and it’s going to require a heck of a lot more education to make sure folks understand whatever the new rule is,” Cenci said.
The Office of Management and Budget is expected to make a decision on the National Marine Fisheries Service regulations by April 26th, but the review period could be extended.