Outdoors

Big fines coming for encroaching on orcas

A transient killer whale with a tiny satellite device attached is seen swimming in Stephen's Passage in southeast Alaska in this Sept. 2010 photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The device, about the size of a 9-volt battery with two darts, is barely visible low on the dorsal fin near the back and was authorized under a federal research permit. Federal biologists plan in February to attach the same devices on Puget Sound's endangered orcas off the West Coast to better understand where they go during winter. But some whale experts worry the tags could injure the orcas. While dart tags have been used on other whale species, this is the first time they would be used on the southern resident killer whales that frequent the inland waters of Washington state and British Columbia.  (Associated Press/NOAA Fisheries)
A transient killer whale with a tiny satellite device attached is seen swimming in Stephen's Passage in southeast Alaska in this Sept. 2010 photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The device, about the size of a 9-volt battery with two darts, is barely visible low on the dorsal fin near the back and was authorized under a federal research permit. Federal biologists plan in February to attach the same devices on Puget Sound's endangered orcas off the West Coast to better understand where they go during winter. But some whale experts worry the tags could injure the orcas. While dart tags have been used on other whale species, this is the first time they would be used on the southern resident killer whales that frequent the inland waters of Washington state and British Columbia. (Associated Press/NOAA Fisheries)

MARINE WILDLIFE — A boater who was caught by the Coast Guard too close to Puget Sound killer whales on Wednesday won’t be penalized, but next summer violators could be fined thousands of dollars, the Associated Press reports.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is working with the Coast Guard and the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department to educate boaters about a 2011 requirement to stay at least 200 yards away from orcas, spokesman Brian Gorman said. Previously it was just a guideline.

“Our intention is to depend on education and warning rather than coming on like gangbusters,” Gorman said.

They’ll make a decision before next summer’s boating season on issuing fines, Gorman said. Civil penalties under the Marine Mammal Protection Act could reach $11,000, and fines under the Endangered Species Act could be as high as $32,500, Gorman said.

Gulp.

Read on for more details from the AP.

On Wednesday a Coast Guard cutter from Port Angeles witnessed a 25-foot pleasure boat remaining within 200 yards of whales near Orcas Island. The boaters were told they were too close.

Most violators are kayakers or pleasure boaters. Organized whale watching boats are aware of the rules and realize violating them would be bad for business, Gorman said.

Encroaching boats can cause stress or prevent orcas from feeding.

The Puget Sound orcas, known as the southern resident population, were declared an endangered species in 2005. Counting at least two calves spotted this summer, there are 89 whales in three pods called J, K and L.




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Rich Landers

Rich Landers’ Outdoors blog


Rich Landers writes and photographs stories for a wide range of outdoors coverage, including a Sunday feature section and a Thursday column. He also writes the Outdoors Blog.


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