Please select your home edition
Marina Exchange 728x90 1

Boaters pay fines for approaching endangered killer whales, putting their feeding at risk

by NOAA Fisheries 6 Jun 14:49 PDT
A witness on San Juan Island took this photo of a rental boat approaching endangered Southern Resident killer whales off the west side of the island. NOAA investigators also interviewed the kayak guide who said the boat was under power at the time © NOAA Fisheries

Two recreational boaters illegally approached endangered Southern Resident killer whales in rented boats last fall. They have agreed to pay fines for violating regulations that protect the whales from vessel traffic and noise.

Whale watchers on shore reported the violations through BeWhaleWise.Org, a partnership of agencies and groups that promote viewing regulations. They provided photographs and details that helped enforcement officers identify the boats involved. Officers then contacted the companies that had rented the boats, and the companies identified the renters involved.

"People can help us by spotting suspected violations and providing as much information as they can as soon as possible," said Greg Busch, Assistant Director of the West Coast Division of NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement. "It is important for boaters to know the rules before they get on the water. The more people who know the rules and help identify violations, the better protected the whales will be."

Rented boat nears whales

Southern Resident killer whales are an endangered population of killer whales native to the Northwest that has declined to just 73 animals. NOAA Fisheries has named them one of 9 national "Species in the Spotlight"—marine species at high risk of extinction and in need of focused and urgent recovery actions.

In the first case, on September 30, 2021, Monika Wieland Shields reported a yacht off the west side of San Juan Island within 100 yards of J Pod. This is one of the three pods of endangered Southern Residents. Shields, director of the Orca Behavior Institute on San Juan Island, supplied details of the vessel and confirmed that the whales were Southern Residents. Officers traced the vessel to a yacht charter company that had rented it to Brendan Loesback of Entiat, Washington.

Loesback acknowledged operating the yacht too close to the whales. He said he had not been aware of the distance regulations at the time. The rental company had not provided information about the state and federal regulations. These regulations require recreational boats to stay at least 300 yards to the sides of the endangered killer whales and 400 yards in front and behind them. Loesback paid a $300 fine.

Shields said she took photos and video of the vessel and the whales to capture their identifying features. "There are respectful ways to view whales from a vessel, but when there's an intentional and egregious violation, it's very important to report it," Shields said. "It was difficult to watch, but I'm grateful enforcement was able to follow up to make sure that such disregard for the whales has consequences."

Regulations mandate viewing distances and require that vessels slow to less than 7 knots within a half nautical mile of the whales and disengage engines within 300 yards. Research has shown that boat traffic within an average of 400 yards interrupts deep-water foraging by the whales that includes capturing prey. Female whales may stop foraging when boats approach that closely. That can undermine the survival of the whales already challenged to find enough of the salmon they largely prey on.

Photographs identify rental company

In the other case, on October 4, 2021, two witnesses identified a recreational boat operating less than 200 yards from the whales and provided photographs. NOAA enforcement officers also talked with a kayak guide visible in one of the photographs. He confirmed that the boat had approached within 100 yards of the whales and had engines running.

Officers tracked the boat to an Anacortes boating club that provides access to boats similar to a timeshare. The company had provided information on whale viewing regulations, including a whale warning flag and QR code linking to an educational video. However, the renter, Christopher Brawn of Roslyn, Washington, told officers he had not looked at the information.

Brawn acknowledged operating the vessel but denied wrongdoing, saying the engine was off near the whales. Officers noted that photographs showed the boat creating a wake, indicating it was moving forward.

Brawn was assessed a penalty amount of $3,000. He accepted a settlement agreement in which he admitted liability in exchange for paying a reduced penalty of $2,700. The different fines reflected differences in how each boat encroached on the endangered whales. For example, the larger fine was associated with approaching the whales more closely over a longer period.

Related Articles

Right Whale Vessel Strike Reduction Proposed Rule
NOAA Fisheries is proposing changes to vessel speed regulations NOAA Fisheries is proposing changes to the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) vessel speed regulations to further reduce the likelihood of mortalities and serious injuries to endangered right whales from vessel collisions. Posted on 17 Sep
Share the water for Labor Day
This Labor Day, NOAA would like to remind everyone to safely enjoy the water with our marine friends Alaska's waters are home to many charismatic and unique species—from Steller sea lions along the coast to migrating whales in our bays. Labor Day is one of the busiest times of year on the water. Posted on 4 Sep
NOAA predicts an above-average hurricane season
Above-average Atlantic temperatures set the stage for busy season ahead Forecasters at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service, are predicting above-average hurricane activity this year — which would make it the seventh consecutive above-average hurricane season. Posted on 10 Jun
Manage vessel discharge and waste
Help protect our national marine sanctuaries This campaign will focus on increasing public awareness around sanctuary discharge regulations in the Olympic Coast, Greater Farallones, Cordell Bank, Monterey Bay, and Channel Islands national marine sanctuaries. Posted on 10 Jul 2021
New web tool aims to reduce whale entanglements
NOAA scientists have combined the latest data on ocean conditions and marine life off the West Coast NOAA scientists have combined the latest data on ocean conditions and marine life off the West Coast on a new data tool. It gives fishermen and fishery managers up-to-date ecosystem information that may help reduce the risk of whale entanglements. Posted on 8 May 2021
Give pregnant killer whales space to forage
Washington regulations require boaters to stay 300 yards from killer whales Washington regulations require boaters to stay 300 yards from Southern Resident killer whales, 400 yards in front and behind. Posted on 23 Aug 2020
What is 1-2-3 Rule used for hurricane avoidance?
During the hurricane season its good to be reminded of the mariner's 1-2-3 Rule The 1-2-3 Rule is means of avoiding winds associated with a tropical cyclone by taking into account the forecast track error of the National Weather Service over a 10 year period which is approximately 100 nm in 24 hours, 200 nm for 48 hours Posted on 30 Aug 2019
Help right whales: give them space
Learn how to keep right whales safe by staying at least 500 yards away NOAA scientists, resource managers, and partners are coordinating closely to solve this urgent conservation challenge. We need to do everything we can to ensure their survival. Posted on 9 Mar 2019
Watch out for whales around Cape Cod
New voluntary vessel speed restriction zone established around Cape Cod Bay to protect right whales A voluntary vessel speed restriction zone (Dynamic Management Area - DMA) has been established around Cape Cod Bay to protect an aggregation of six right whales sighted in this area. Posted on 13 Dec 2018
Watching for right whales more important than ever
NOAA and partners ask the public to give whales space during annual pilgrimage south With an unprecedented 20 right whale deaths documented in 2017 and 2018, NOAA is cautioning boaters to give these endangered whales plenty of room as they migrate south. Posted on 25 Nov 2018
Maritimo 2022Mar - S75 FOOTERCoast Guard Foundation FOOTER 1Sea Sure 2020 - SHOCK-WBV - FOOTER