WASHINGTON (CN) – Whale watchers will need to upgrade their binoculars to see Southern Resident killer whales breaching in Puget Sound, Washington, as whale watching boats will not be allowed to approach within 200 yards of them, or park in their paths, according to rules proposed by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The whales are called “resident” because they spend certain times each year in the San Juan Islands and Puget Sound.
There were over 100 Southern Residents in the mid-1960s, but three major population declines have occurred since then. The first decline, between 1967 and 1973, was caused by live capture operations for public display. Approximately 34 whales were taken, leading to a decline of at least 30 percent. A 12 percent decline occurred between 1980 and 1984. Then, between 1996 and 2000, the Southern Residents have declined 12.8 percent, from 97 to 82, according to the Center for Biological Diversity’s petition for listing the species as endangered.
In the final rule announcing the endangered listing of Southern Resident killer whales, the agency identified several scientific studies documenting the disturbance of Southern Resident killer whales by whale watching boats. Vessel traffic can affect individual whale behavior and lead to fatal collisions with ships.
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