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Soundwatch teams educate boaters near orcas in Puget Sound

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In Puget Sound, the vulnerable population of 85 resident orcas face a daily onslaught of boat noise, from fishermen, commercial whale watching, and recreational watercraft.  Current voluntary guidelines call for boats to remain 100 yards away, and to slow to seven knots when within 400 yards.  “People don’t always grasp what 100 yards is,” said Kari Koski, program director for Soundwatch, a project of the local Friday Harbor Whale Museum. “We try to educate them and give boaters the opportunity to make the right decision.” Soundwatch teams that flag down boaters who are too close, or going too fast, find that many local boaters are unaware of the voluntary guidelines, or simply don’t notice the whales nearby.  An article this week in the Seattle Times provides a great overview of the on-water education undertaken by Soundwatch, as well as NOAA’s plans for more stringent mandatory rules, which are planned to go into effect next year.  NOAA’s proposal calls for 200 yard limits, as well as setting aside the entire west side of San Juan Island as a “no-go” zone for all boats, including kayaks, out to a half mile from shore.  The proposal was released in 2009, with comments accepted into early 2010, and a final decision expected sometime soon.  See this earlier AIEnews post for more on the proposal, and reactions from locals; this earlier post looks at some of the research underway to assess the effects of boat noise on orca communication (it makes them call louder) and foraging (it may cause them to expend more energy finding food).

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