Aug. 1, 2009
Whale watching by both pleasure and whale watching boats are under close scrutiny by the Marine Mammal Monitoring program. In a move that has jolted the whale-watching industry, the U.S is proposing new rules that would almost double the distance boats must maintain from killer whales in Puget Sound.

Similar changes to marine mammal regulations are being considered by Canada.

The U.S. proposals would prohibit boats from getting closer than 200 yards (180 meters) from endangered southern resident killer whales and would also set up a half-mile (0.8 kilometer) no-go zone for most boats along the west side of San Juan Island from May to September.

Under current whale-watching guidelines, which apply in the U.S. and Canada, boats must stay 100 meters away from killer whales. An additional voluntary guideline says boats should not be within 260 meters of the west side of San Juan Island while whales are present.

A representative from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's northwest office, said the idea behind the rule change is to protect the 85 southern resident killer whales from underwater noise.

The earliest new regulations could be in place is May.

Most whale-watching boats already stay beyond the 100-yard limit. However, some whale-watching tour operators are shocked by news of the proposed changes.