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Killer Whale Watcher Distance Limits Proposed

WASHINGTON (CN) - The National Marine Fisheries Service is extending the public comment period for proposed regulations under the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act to prohibit vessels from approaching killer whales within 200 yards and from parking in the path of whales for vessels in inland waters of Washington State.

The comment period is extended by 80 days.

The killer whale or orca, is found in all oceans in both open seas and coastal waters. Orcas are toothed whales, related to sperm and pilot whales, and sit at the top of their food chain, prey only to large sharks. Orcas are known to hunt in teams and have the most varied diet of all whales.

The Southern Resident killer whales are a large population in the Pacific Northwest and "reside" in around the San Juan Islands and Puget Sound in Washington state for long periods each year.

When the Southern resident killer whales were first listed as endangered, the agency identified disturbance and sound associated with vessels as a potential contributing factor in the whale's recent decline.

The restriction of vessel approaches is aimed mainly at commercial whale watching vessels, which the agency says intentionally place themselves in the path of traveling whales, altering the whales' course and increasing whale surfacing, which is popular with whale watching tourists.

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