New Protections for Puget Sound Killer Whales Proposed

NOAA Fisheries Service is proposing new rules on vessel traffic aimed at further protecting the endangered Southern Resident killer whales in Washington State’s Puget Sound . While Southern Resident whales are also threatened by degraded water quality and lack of prey (primarily salmon), biologists believe that vessel traffic is also tied to their low numbers. The whales, which depend on their highly sophisticated sonar to navigate and find food, can be affected by underwater noise from boats and disturbed by vessels that approach too close or block their paths. The proposed rule would prohibit vessels from approaching any killer whale closer than 200 yards and forbid vessels from intercepting or anchoring in the path of a whale. In addition, there would be a half-mile-wide zone along the west side of San Juan Island where no vessels would be allowed from May 1 through the end of September. T here would be exemptions to the rules for some vessels, including those actively fishing commercially, cargo vessels traveling in established shipping lanes, and government and research vessels. The no-go zone would also have limited exceptions for landowners accessing adjacent private property. NOAA Fisheries Service will hold public meetings on September 30 in Seattle, and October 5 in Friday Harbor, WA. Comments may be sent to www.regulations.gov until October 27, 2009. More information is available online.

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