November 7, 2018 1:56 pm
Updated: November 7, 2018 11:55 pm

Washington state task force calls for ban on whale-watching boat tours

WATCH: It's a drastic move designed to save the threatened southern resident killer whale population. Washington State is looking at a three- to five-year ban on whale watching. And as Aaron Mcarthur reports, that could have an impact on a popular industry on this side of the border.

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At Eagle Wing tours, the wildlife watching runs year-round.

Wildlife encounters can include humpback whales, sea otters, and sea lions. But the star of the show for many people is often B.C.’s most iconic animal — the killer whale.

Now the Victoria business may be facing some loss of revenue because of a pending decision in the Washington state governor’s office.

The Washington state task force on critically endangered Northwest orcas wants to temporarily ban commercial whale-watching boat tours.

READ MORE: Conservation groups file lawsuit to protect endangered orcas

The group advising the governor voted Tuesday to recommend a three- to five-year moratorium to reduce boating traffic and help orcas hunting for food.

Orcas have hit the lowest numbers in more than three decades, capturing global attention as starvation has caused deaths. Just 74 animals remain in the area.

WATCH: Coverage of the endangered Northwest orcas on Globalnews.ca


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Brett Soberg, who runs Eagle Wing tours and also speaks on behalf of B.C.’s whale watching industry, says the process in Washington state has been flawed from the beginning.

“It’s pretty clear food scarcity, not noise from boats that is the biggest concern to the southern residents,” he said.

READ MORE: Endangered orca believed dead off B.C. coast, bringing population down to 75

“The whale-watching industry is a trans-national. Canadian companies are regularly in American waters tracking animals. If Washington state bans viewing it will have an impact on how Canadian tour operators conduct their business, but there are very few details about what could happen. This really surprised us.”

So far, It doesn’t appear the B.C. or federal governments are considering a moratorium.

B.C. Tourism Minister Lisa Beare believes whale watching is an important way to highlight the plight of orcas in the Salish Sea.

“B.C. operators constantly work with DFO to ensure the whales are being respected and that the proper distances are being kept,” Beare said.

While the government is willing to work with tour operators to pick up demand from the Washington state industry, a moratorium on whale watching would have an effect on the Canadian businesses.

But most B.C. companies are already voluntarily limiting viewing of the southern residents. Over the course of the last two seasons, Soberg says they have only made up about 10 per cent of the wildlife Eagle Wing Tours has encountered.

“The industry is shifting focus to thriving populations like humpbacks or transient orcas,” Soberg said.

— With files from The Associated Press

 

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