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B.C. company opposes Pacific Northwest whale watching ban

FILE: A female resident orca whale breaches while swimming in Puget Sound near Bainbridge Island as seen from a federally permitted research vessel Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014. Several conservation groups say the federal government's failure to issue an emergency order reducing threats to endangered orcas off the B.C. coast ahead of fishing and whale-watching season could mean their extinction. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Elaine Thompson

A B.C. whale watching business owner says she's worried about a ban on whale watching boats

Whale watching business owner says the ban won't save orca population

Task force co-chair says orcas need quiet and space to hunt

TOFINO (NEWS 1130) – The owner of a B.C. whale watching business says a ban proposed by a Washington State task force won’t protect dwindling orca populations.

The task force recommends temporarily banning whale watching boat tours for three to five years across the Pacific Northwest. It’s one of 36 recommendations meant to protect 74 endangered orcas and reduce the amount of noise caused by vessels.

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The primary cause of dwindling populations is a shortage of food, according to Theresia Lee, owner of the West Coast Aquatic Safaris. She says banning smaller vessels won’t protect the endangered orcas that travel north from Washington’s Puget Sound.

“There’s stuff we can do to help the Chinook salmon supply, to reduce our contaminants in the ocean itself and definitely, there’s stuff we can do to vessel traffic –big boats, like commercial vessel traffic,” Lee says. “Smaller boats don’t have as much of an impact.”

However, Lee says she understands the something needs to be done.

“It’s a good thing people are so focused. Even if it’s just to get more attention on the matter and look at it from kind of a holistic perspective,” she says.

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But Stephanie Solien, who co-chairs the task force, says the bold approach is necessary, and that research shows the quieter the waters are, the easier it is for orcas to hunt salmon.

“We’re asking all boaters to give the whales more quiet waters and space to find food,” she says.

Solien insists the ban won’t include guided tours for other whales that aren’t at risk.

“Asking all boaters to give endangered southern residents space through a three to five year suspension and the task force recommendation does not prohibit whale-watching for other whales,” Solien says.

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The task force was asked to create a report with recommendations for recovering Southern Resident orcas, outlining actions that would address major threats to the population, including: availability of prey, toxic contaminents, and disturbance and noise from noise and vessel traffic.

You can read a copy of the recommendations below.


– With files from Sean Holden