08/12/2009: "LETTERS ON NO-GO-ZONE"
Letter to Editor:
I wish to encourage everyone to read the NOAA Orca Recovery Plan. I referred to “100 years” in last week’s letter for a reason and I put quotes on some statements since I had done some research and try to be accurate in my writing.
Please refer to pages II-112 of the NOAA report, which can be viewed at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/pdfs/recovery/whale_killer.pdf :
“Motorized fishing vessels were introduced in 1903 and probably resulted in substantial noise exposure for the region’s killer whales by the 1910s or 1920s. Numbers of non-tribal commercial fishing vessels remained high through the mid-1970s … Numbers of commercial fishing licenses in this area, which generally reflect the numbers of non-tribal vessels in operation, fell from 4,132 in 1974 to 286 in 2006 (D. Noviello, unpubl. data). During the peak decades of activity, under liberal fishing seasons, boats congregated in large numbers on productive fishing grounds for periods of weeks or months, especially from May through October. … the sound generated by the fleet was intense (K.C. Balcomb, pers. comm.) and the localized presence of so many vessels must have been significant at times. Observations from the 1970s indicate that the whales regularly mingled with commercial fishing vessels (K.C. Balcomb, pers. comm.). This information suggests that the Southern Residents were impacted by vessel effects for a number of decades before the buildup of commercial whale watching.”
The commercial boat numbers (4,132) did not include tribal fishing boat numbers or Canadian fishing boats. I’m not anti-commercial fishing, on the contrary I wish we still had the rich salmon resource of the past.
Owner San Juan Safaris
Recent comments on being tired of hearing whale-watching complaints seem self-centered, at a time when the survival of the Southern Residents should be the only criterion for our future plans of action.
Whether whale watch operators are tired of hearing things they don't like is really unimportant, in this regard. What IS important is that scientists now agree that the whales are starving, and that boat presence - including commercial whale watch boats - accelerate that starvation, by increasing metabolic rates, dive times, the length of swim paths, and therefore energy needs; while harming sonar efficiency, dispersing fish, and, on occasion, even bloodying the whales through collision.
Whale watch operators who think the whales in some ways are happy to be watched should consider that the older of these animals watched half their number killed or taken for entertainment, just a few decades ago. Did the whales attack those boats? No. No doubt, those people, too, thought they
were doing the right thing for the whales, putting them on display for the world to see, even if many were killed in the process. The law put an end to this, but you would never have known from their behavior what the local whales experienced.
Whales have been separate from humans for 50 million years of evolution, and I would suggest that none of us knows what they are thinking. They don't attack us when we kill and take their offspring; why? Every scientific paper published on boat / whale interactions shows a negative result for the whales. There is nowhere to "hide" on this question: boats are harmful to whales, particularly in low-chinook years.
Some boat operators also seem unaware that our example of the craziness of watching endangered wolves with Harleys is not really a metaphor: the same engines driving Harleys on land, are driving whale watch boats on the water. The only difference is that the sound is MUCH more intense and under water, travels MUCH further, and does more damage, because water is much denser than air.
As for pointing at private boaters, which seems to be the collective whale watch operators' theme song: these boaters used to be unaware of the whales, even when near them; it is only the constant presence of the commercial whale watch fleet that paints a big target on the water for all to see for miles around, doubling the number of boats by signalling the private boats the exact location of the whales, and so encouraging the bad behavior noted in the letter above.
We are beyond the time for experiment: the Southern Residents are listed as endangered because they really are. According to the Endangered Species Act, it is illegal to pursue them. Of course it is! They are endangered.. Who would ever consider starting or running a business with the intent of pursuing an endangered species?
It sounds as disastrous an idea as it really is.
For those who believe in action, we encourage you to come see the award-winning film "The Cove" this Thursday (08-27-09)at the Palace Theater, and meet director Louis Psihoyos.
Chair, Orca Relief
Since 1965 in some way I have had the good fortune to educate people about environmental issues. My experience includes Youth Conservation Corps, U.S. Forest Service, State Parks, Natural History Eco-Tourism, and for the last 15 years operating San Juan Safaris on San Juan Island.
I have some good news. In that period of time people’s awareness is much improved and the genuine concern and love for wildlife has become part of our American fabric. We have evolved from largely consumptive view of wildlife to largely a non-consumptive view of wildlife.
In my experience whales have been the driving force in this paradigm switch. Watching these wonderful creatures being slaughtered to provide inane products outraged the world and many whale species owe their very existence to people seeing whales on television with folks like Jacques Cousteau and going out on whale watching tours around the world.
Please understand that these are the best days our local whales have known in the last hundred years. In the past, the west side of San Juan Island had two large fishing fleets plying the summer waters, their nets in the waters and guns on deck to shoot the orcas. Older islanders say “You knew where the orcas where from the gunfire”. Others say ”There were so many boats that at night it looked like a city on the water”. Orca were also being captured and thrown into tanks to be incarcerated for the rest of their lives.”
We are so blessed to have sustainable tourism industry based on love and admiration for the orca. Because of increased awareness and science, we have a great chance to sustain and increase the orca population. What the orca need is Chinook salmon and many more of them.
Anyone who has gone on our boats knows that we operate with the greatest possible respect for the orcas. Much of the time, our engines are shut off, drifting so we can hear the whales talk to each other. My competitors operate the same way. If someone is less than courteous to the whales, they are rebuked. This is my life’s mission and my life’s work. To have anyone think I would harass these amazing animals is so hurtful to us. Please, if you really care for the whales give some thought to how many whales have been protected because people saw them from a responsible whale watch tour and became their advocates.
San Juan Island
( Mr. Wright is the owner, San Juan Safaris Whale Watch & Wildlife Tours)