Today Tacoma’s News Tribune offers a story about the imminent issuing of new rules for watching southern resident killer whales. This story confirms Donna Darm’s recent mention of the regulations being currently under review at OMB. It remains to be seen whether the rules will be issued in time for the whale watching industry and killer whale researchers to plan accordingly for the upcoming season.
While the story isn’t quite accurate about the state of bioacoustic science, it does contain a fascinating juxtaposition of quotes — from former EPA administrator and Puget Sound Partnership Leadership Council Chair Bill Ruckelshaus, and former President of the Pacific Whale Watch Association Shane Aggergaard. (Why wasn’t current President Bill Wright quoted?) This exchange of perspectives reminded me that someone needs to create a synopsis and analysis of the diverse public comments on the proposed vessel regulations, particularly those (30 Mb of) comments from the whale watch industry.
Underwater noise pollution affects calls but not clicks (yet)
The article states that “Research shows engine noise can interfere with the whales’ ability to find food.” That’s a little unclear. What has been shown for southern residents (Holt, et al., 2009) is that underwater noise from nearby boats makes killer whales call louder. If those calls are important for foraging, then the boat noise could affect the whales’ ability to find food. The greater potential impact of vessel noise on their ability to forage is masking of the echolocation clicks they use to target salmon. That is a focus of on-going observational and modeling efforts.
Ruckelshaus pwns Aggergaard
My favorite quote is from Bill because it suggests that the whale watching industry should take a broader, longer view of conservation science and policies:
Anytime you have an endangered species you always have somebody who is adversely impacted by the efforts to save the species, and they are very skeptical about the science that shows what they’re doing is causing any harm. The whale watch boats are equally dependent on the health of the orcas as are people who are concerned about them as a species.