The National Marine Fisheries Service warned spectators Friday to keep their distance as killer whales feed on salmon in Dyes Inlet and other parts of Puget Sound.
The federal agency said it is concerned about recent reports of boats chasing the orcas at the inlet near Bremerton.
“Within the past few days, a group of whales tentatively identified as members of “L” pod have entered Dyes Inlet and stimulated a lot of public interest and concern,” said Brent Norberg, marine mammal coordinator for the fisheries service.
Norberg noted that killer whales are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and that harassing the whales is against the law. Boaters should stay at least 100 yards away from the orcas, he said.
“If you’re out in the Sound, watching these whales, that’s fine,” he said. “But make sure you don’t herd or chase the animals and maintain your distance both for personal safety and for the benefit of animals.”
Also, aircraft should not fly lower than 1,000 feet over the whales or hover overhead.
Kelley Balcomb-Bartok from the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island goes even further. He recommends that boaters stay out of Dyes Inlet until researchers can make sure the whales aren’t in distress.
It may be premature for any kind of alarm, he said, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
“The animals may be stressed,” he said. “Several are spy-hopping at once (popping their heads out of the water vertically and looking around). Some are doing high-speed swimming. Some are swimming in small circles. That’s unusual.”
It may be they’re in unfamiliar waters or they may be lost, he said.
“If this goes on much longer, I’d have to say they are stuck,” Balcomb-Bartok said.
The last time orcas were reported in Dyes Inlet was New Year’s Day, 35 years ago.
“I’m especially worried about whales in the approaches to and inside the Port Washington Narrows,” Norberg said. Boats there could cause the whales to avoid the only exit from the inlet, he said.
If boaters go to Dyes Inlet, they should make sure they don’t get between the whales and the Warren Avenue Bridge, Balcomb-Bartok said.
“The whales need a straight shot out,” he said.