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Group finalizes endangered orcas proposals with ban on tours

November 16, 2018

FILE - In this July 31, 2015 file photo, an orca leaps out of the water near a whale watching boat in the Salish Sea in the San Juan Islands, Wash. A Washington state task force on critically endangered Northwest orcas has offered its full slate of recommendations to Gov. Jay Inslee ahead of the next legislative session. The group advising the governor wants to temporarily suspend whale-watching boat tours focused on those whales, one of three dozen recommendations to save a population that is at its lowest in over 30 years. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

SEATTLE (AP) — A Washington state task force on critically endangered Northwest orcas is calling for a temporary ban on boat tours as part of a slate of recommendations to Gov. Jay Inslee ahead of the next legislative session.

The group wants to suspend whale-watching boat tours focused on the orcas for between three and five years. It made three dozen recommendations to save a species whose population is at its lowest in more than 30 years.

The moratorium would apply to all boat traffic intended to view southern resident killer whales in Puget Sound but doesn’t affect boat trips for viewing other whales in the region, such as gray or transient whales.

Disturbances and noise from boats can interfere with the whale’s ability to find food or communicate.

Critics say the proposal doesn’t address the larger issue of dwindling food supply. They add it would be devastating for the local whale-viewing industry.

The orcas’ plight has captured global attention as starvation reduces their numbers. Just 74 animals are believed to be remaining in the area.

The endangered orcas struggle from pollution, boat noise and lack of chinook salmon, which have been declining because of dams, habitat loss and overfishing.

The task force ordered further study of the prospect of tearing down dams to help fish migrate and restore the salmon population.

Some argue the best way to get more salmon to the starving whales is to tear down four dams on the lower Snake River, a tributary of the Columbia River. Critics say doing so would hurt the livelihood of many who depend on those dams for navigation, recreation and hydropower.

Inslee said he will review the proposals before finalizing his state budget and policy priorities next month. The state Legislature convenes in January.

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