NOAA proposes regulations to protect killer whales
74 Fed. Reg. 37674 / Vol. 74, No. 144 / Wednesday, July 29, 2009 / Proposed Rules
DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration / 50 CFR Part 224 / Protective Regulations for Killer Whales in the Northwest Region Under the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act
ACTION: Proposed rule; request for comments, and availability of Draft Environmental Assessment on regulations to protect killer whales from vessel effects.
SUMMARY: We, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), propose 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 proposed regulations would also prohibit vessels from entering a conservation area during a defined season. Certain vessels would be exempt from the prohibitions. The purpose of this action is to protect killer whales from interference and noise associated with vessels. In the final rule announcing the endangered listing of Southern Resident killer whales we identified disturbance and sound associated with vessels as a potential contributing factor in the recent decline of this population. The Recovery Plan for Southern Resident killer whales calls for evaluating current guidelines and assessing the need for regulations and/ or protected areas. We developed this proposed rule after considering comments submitted in response to an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) and preparing a draft environmental assessment (EA). We are requesting comments on the proposed regulations and the draft EA.
Killer whales in the eastern North Pacific have been classified into three forms, or ecotypes, termed residents, transients, and offshore whales. The regulatory measures proposed here are designed to protect killer whales from vessel impacts and will support recovery of Southern Resident killer whales including those in Puget Sound. See ecoworldly, kitsap sun, and photo from NOAA.
KEITHINKING: In a particularly noteworthy comment, given the nature of the regulations, the bellingham herald quoted a local whale watch cruise operator to say that the proposed new federal rules to protect Puget Sound orca whales don't appear to be too drastic. "They're not horrible, they're not great," said Drew Schmidt, owner of Victoria San Juan Cruises. "They're not going to put us out of business." Use of sonar by the U.S. Navy, however, is strictly off limits. See Kitsap Sun.