Map of voluntary “no-go” zone to protect southern resident killer whales (orcas). (Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife)

Map of voluntary “no-go” zone to protect southern resident killer whales (orcas). (Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife)

State asks people to steer clear whale area in San Juans

Orcas forage and socialize there, and the WDFW wants the whales to have “a quiet area to feed.”

By David Rasbach / The Bellingham Herald

The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife is asking anglers and other boaters to avoid an area along the west side of San Juan Island in an effort to help protect the dwindling population of southern resident killer whales.

The move became necessary, according to a press release Monday, after the population of southern residents declined from 98 whales in 1995 to 76 in December of 2017. In addition to a lack of food — primarily chinook salmon — and toxic contaminants, disturbance from vessel traffic and noise is one of the major threats to the resident orca pods.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife said it is working, along with other partner agencies and stakeholder groups, to educate anglers and other recreational and commercial boaters about the voluntary “no-go” zone.

The no-go zone will extend a quarter-mile offshore from Mitchell Bay in the north to Cattle Point at the southern tip of San Juan Island and a half-mile offshore in an area around the Lime Klin Lighthouse.

The southern resident pods frequently use the no-go zone for foraging and socializing, and the WDFW said it hopes keeping boats out of the area “will allow the whales a quiet area to feed.”

“This voluntary no-go zone is a good step in helping to reduce human impacts in an important foraging area for southern resident killer whales,” WDFW’s policy lead on killer whales Penny Becker said in the release.

In March, Gov. Jay Inslee signed an executive order creating a task force and directing the Department of Fish and Wildlife, among other agencies, to take immediate action to help benefit the southern resident killer whales. Among actions Fish and Wildlife took was reducing the fisheries in areas important to orcas, such as the San Juan Islands, the Straight of Juan de Fuca and the Admiralty Inlet.

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