No More Kayaking with Orca Whales?!

Amazingly enough, the National Marine Fisheries Service has a plan to ban kayaking on the west side of San Juan Island in the heart of the orca whale watching zone. Without the backing of any scientific studies that show kayaking with killer whales has any negative effect on the orcas, NMFS was planning to shut down kayaking on the west side of San Juan Island this year. Fortunately, they have delayed a decision as they are finally starting to understand the true facts now.

There is still time to let them know what you think about this crazy idea before they make any rules for 2011. The deadline for sending them your comments on their proposed plan is January 15, 2010 – just a couple of days from now. We have submitted our suggestions for creating a more sensible orca management plan which you can read below. Feel free to use them in your email to orca.plan@noaa.gov if you wish.

1. I support your proposal to require motorized vessels (kayaks exempt) to stay 200 yards away from orcas.

2. I support your proposal that motorized vessels keep clear a 400 yard right-of-way ahead of the killer whale’s path. It should be recognized that kayaks closeness to the water often limits their ability to spot killer whales, and their slow speed, combined with winds & currents, can make it difficult to quickly clear the way; therefor kayaks should keep a 200 yard right-of-away ahead of the orca whales path.

3. I recommend that the orcas’ critical foraging area on the west side of San Juan Island be better protected. I do not support your proposed blanket “no-go zone” as currently designed. Reductions in vessel-whale interactions can be achieved by giving right-of-way to the whales. This unique whale watching area should be regulated in the following ways:

A. Create a “slow zone” with a speed limit of 7 knots extending from Kellet Bluff to Cattle Point within half-mile of shore throughout the year.

B. Create a “whale right-of-way zone” for motorized vessels (kayaks exempt) when killer whales are present between May 1 and Sept 30 extending from Battleship Island to Eagle Point. Vessels should be required to move offshore by 1/4 mile when orca whales are present within 1/4 mile of a vessel and when the vessel and whales are within 1/4 mile from shore.

C. Create an “no-go zone for motors” for motorized vessels (kayaks exempt) from Edwards Point to San Juan County Park to be in effect year-round. This “no-go zone for motors” would extend out to 1/2 mile offshore. This area would be a kayak and human-powered craft-only zone, all other restrictions applying. Absolutely no exemptions for recreational or commercial fishing.

D. SoundWatch / The Whale Museum has devised an excellent code of conduct for kayakers called K.E.L.P. which they use to educate kayak users on the beaches on the west side of San Juan Island. This educational effort should be supported and continued.

author avatar
Sea Quest