Watch out for whales over this holiday weekend

The Labor Day weekend will likely draw skippers to the water – veterans and novices alike – and the Orca Network wants to remind them of the rules regarding Whidbey’s many whales, porpoises and (lone) dolphin.

The Orca Network is offering a series of webinars to teach boaters how to share the water. The webinars will include safety tips and reminders of the laws to protect marine mammals.

Staff from the Orca Network will review boater safety regulations and the species of marine mammals seen in the Salish Sea, and Lynne Barre from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will go over a partnership to research and implement safe vessel practices.

The first webinar is 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 2, and safety-conscious skippers can register on the Orca Network’s website.

The most important advice for boaters in the vicinity of marine life of any kind is to go slow, about seven knots, according to the Orca Network. Indeed, Washington state law requires that a boater limit the vessel’s speed to seven knots within half a nautical mile (or 1,013 yards) of the area’s endangered southern resident orca whales.

Boaters must stay 300 yards away from southern resident orcas per state law, and cannot let their boat drift within 400 yards of an orca’s path. They also cannot harass, follow or feed one. Doing so may result in a $500 fine.

Engine speed is important because it minimizes noise pollution underwater which has the potential to affect whales and other marine life.

The noise from passing boats is a bigger issue than a potential strike, according to Howard Garrett, one of the co-founders of the Orca Network. Although rare, a humpback whale was hit by the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry last month. Boat noise is much more prevalent, and Garrett said boaters need to be cognizant of their actions near whales.

“But again, if you go slow, you mitigate both problems,” of noise pollution and potential collisions, he said.

Ultimately, Garrett said, boaters should remember to maintain “basic courtesy” whenever they’re on the water.

“The foundation of all the guidelines is respect for the whales,” he said.

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