Orca-boat rules

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A place to centralize and archive rules regarding the interaction of boats and southern resident killer whales. Much of this information was derived from a summary document handed out at the 2009 SRKW Transboundary Naturalist Workshop (thanks to Lynne Barre and Kari Koski).

2009 proposed rule

A proposal, still under development in 2009, to protect SRKWs in WA State under both the ESA and MMPA.

Web site | Proposed rule in Federal Register


Washington State law

PDF of law | RCW 77.15.740 | Signed by Governor on April 1, 2008. Effective June 11, 2008.

The summary of Washington House Bill 2514 passed during the 2007-2008 Legislature states “It is a natural resource infraction to approach or cause a vessel to approach within 300 feet of a southern Orca whale.”

Penalties: A violation is a natural resource infraction punishable under chapter 7.84 RCW

Case history:

NEW SECTION.  Sec. 2.  A new section is added to chapter 77.15 RCW 
to read as follows: 
(1) Except as provided in subsection (2) of this section, it is 
unlawful to: 
(a) Approach, by any means, within three hundred feet of a southern 
resident orca whale (Orcinus orca); 
(b) Cause a vessel or other object to approach within three hundred 
feet of a southern resident orca whale; 
(c) Intercept a southern resident orca whale.  A person intercepts 
a southern resident orca whale when that person places a vessel or 
allows a vessel to remain in the path of a whale and the whale 
approaches within three hundred feet of that vessel; 
(d) Fail to disengage the transmission of a vessel that is within 
three hundred feet of a southern resident orca whale, for which the 
vessel operator is strictly liable; or 
(e) Feed a southern resident orca whale, for which any person 
feeding a southern resident orca whale is strictly liable. 
(2) A person is exempt from subsection (1) of this section where: 
(a) A reasonably prudent person in that person's position would 
determine that compliance with the requirements of subsection (1) of 
this section will threaten the safety of the vessel, the vessel's crew 
or passengers, or is not feasible due to vessel design limitations, or 
because the vessel is restricted in its ability to maneuver due to 
wind, current, tide, or weather; 
(b) That person is lawfully participating in a commercial fishery 
and is engaged in actively setting, retrieving, or closely tending 
commercial fishing gear; 
(c) That person is acting in the course of official duty for a 
state, federal, tribal, or local government agency; or 
(d) That person is acting pursuant to and consistent with 
authorization from a state or federal government agency. 
(3) Nothing in this section is intended to conflict with existing 
rules regarding safe operation of a vessel or vessel navigation rules. 
(4) For the purpose of this section, "vessel" includes aircraft, 
canoes, fishing vessels, kayaks, personal watercraft, rafts, 
recreational vessels, tour boats, whale watching boats, vessels engaged 
in whale watching activities, or other small craft including power 
boats and sail boats. 
(5) A violation of this section is a natural resource infraction 
punishable under chapter 7.84 RCW.

County ordinance


Be Whalewise Guidelines


"Do not follow or pursue the whales. Stay 100 yards away."

Section on killer whales:

1. BE CAUTIOUS and COURTEOUS: approach areas of known or suspected marine wildlife activity with extreme caution. 
Look in all directions before planning your approach or departure.
2. SLOW DOWN: reduce speed to less than 7 knots when within 400 metres/yards of the nearest whale. 
Avoid abrupt course changes.
3. KEEP CLEAR of the whales’ path. If whales are approaching you, cautiously move out of the way.
4. DO NOT APPROACH whales from the front or from behind. Always approach and depart whales from the side, 
moving in a direction parallel to the direction of the whales.
5. DO NOT APPROACH or position your vessel closer than 100 metres/yards to any whale.
6. If your vessel is not in compliance with the 100 metres/yards approach guideline (#5), 
place engine in neutral and allow whales to pass.
7. STAY on the OFFSHORE side of the whales when they are traveling close to shore.
8. LIMIT your viewing time to a recommended maximum of 30 minutes. This will minimize 
the cumulative impact of many vessels and give consideration to other viewers.
9. DO NOT swim with, touch or feed marine wildlife.

Penalties: Consultation with Soundwatch or Straitwatch; annual report card for commercial operators?

Endangered Species Act (ESA)


Congress passed the ESA in 1973 and it provides for the conservation of species that are endangered or threatened, and the conservation of the ecosystems on which they depend. The listing of a species as endangered makes it illegal to “take” that species. Similar prohibitions usually extend to threatened species.

The term “take” means to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct. (Note: under the ESA there are no specific definitions of harass or pursue.)

Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA)


All marine mammals are protected under the MMPA of 1972. The MMPA prohibits, with certain exceptions, the "take" of marine mammals in U.S. waters and by U.S. citizens on the high seas, and the importation of marine mammals and marine mammal products into the U.S.

The MMPA defines “take” to mean “to hunt harass, capture, or kill” any marine mammal or attempt to do so. “Take” also includes the negligent or intentional operation of an aircraft or vessel, or the doing of any other negligent or intentional act which results in disturbing or molesting a marine mammal and feeding or attempting to feed a marine mammal in the wild. The term “harassment” means “any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which-

1) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild (Level A harassment); or

2) has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering (Level B harassment).”