September 30, 2009

Puget Sound whales may get big buffer zone

Federal officials say they are considering giving killer whales in Washington state's Puget Sound a broader protective zone.

Boats are now required to stay 100 yards away from the whales. The proposed National Marine Fisheries Service regulations would double that and would also close off a half-mile channel off San Juan Island between May and September, The Seattle Times reports.

The rules would apply to whale-watching boats and recreational boaters but not to commercial fishermen, cargo ships and, in some cases, people trying to reach their own island property.

Federal wildlife agents say whale-watchers threaten the killer whales by getting too close so that engine noise interferes with their communication and boats sometimes hem them in. Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound, says the proposed rules are too tough on whale-watchers and not hard enough on fishermen, who are in competition with the whales for salmon.