USCG Launches Pacific Northwest Whale Awareness Program

“Operation Be Whale Wise” logo. Photo via USCG.

U.S. Coast Guard officials in the Pacific Northwest are asking boaters to be mindful of sharing local waters with whales this summer.

As part of its “Operation Be Whale Wise” launch July 1, the USCG is partnering with other agencies on the effort to make the public, including boaters, more aware of the orcas in the Puget Sound. That includes the enforcement of buffer zones and other vessel rules.

Under federal rules, vessels are not allowed to approach killer whales within 200 yards or park in the path of killer whales.

In 2019, the State of Washington required vessels to stay “at least 300 yards away from either side or 400 yards in front of or behind orca whales.” It also mandates that vessels within a half mile of orcas to lower speed to less than seven knots.

The region is home to various marine mammals, including the Southern Resident Killer Whale, which are unique and endangered as there were only 75 of them as of February 2021, according to USCG.

Currently, 13 SRKW have been “deemed in vulnerable conditions,” with four whales possibly pregnant, according to USCG.

“It is important to keep our marine friends safe from preventable mishaps,” the agency said in a statement.

Boaters can be “whale wise” by moving cautiously in the water, making sure engines are in neutral or shut down and shut down fish finder and echo sounders (if it’s safe to do so) to let animals pass and report sightings through the WhaleReport App.

By Karen Robes Meeks