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Demonstration of boat noise May 28, 2004

Orca Relief Citizens Alliance (ORCA) believes killer whales are adversely affected by the noise from whale watching boats. ORCA Protection Day, Saturday, May 29, 2004, will illustrate the problem and offer alternatives. The event will feature orca presentations, alternative land-based whale watching ideas, and boat noise demonstrations to help educate the public about the impact on the Orca population. The presentations will take place at 11 am, 1 pm and 3 pm on Court Street, in front of the San Juan County courthouse in Friday Harbor.

The group says imagine listening to your teenager’s stereo at full blast, from morning until night, all summer long. Now multiple that times 100. "That is what our orca whales experience almost every day of the spring and summer they spend in Puget Sound," says Mark Anderson, founder of Orca Relief Citizens Alliance (ORCA). "It’s not just annoying, it greatly reduces their ability to hunt for food and communicate with each other. Besides that, they expend more calories avoiding the boats, and, since their ability to fish is compromised, they draw down on their blubber, which is full of toxins."

Since 1995, the southern resident population of orcas (which spend between six and eight months of the year in the San Juan Islands) has declined by nearly 20 percent. During that same period, the number of motorized whale-watching boats in the area has increased dramatically – reaching up to 140 boats in a single day.

"The only step we can take right now to make an instant impact on helping these whales survive is to reduce the number of boats watching and following these whales and to restore their ability to find fish," says Dr. Birgit Kriete, executive director of Orca Relief. "Land based whale watching is a sure fire way to do this," she added.

Among the factors cited recently by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife as contributing to the whale population decline is the harassment by marine vehicles. Orca Relief has commissioned three separate scientific studies that show motorized whale-watching boats may play a primary role in the decline of the southern resident Orca population. For more information on the studies, see www.orcarelief.org.

Other whale researchers have disputed the group's studies.

The group reminds people to do the following if they encounter a whale while boating:

  • Turn off your engine, depth sounder and other electronic equipment. Such equipment damages their ability to communicate and find food.

  • When leaving, do not move faster than five knots until you are two miles away from the nearest whale.

  • It is better to use 4-stroke engines rather than 2-stroke engines to decrease the amount of noise interfering with killer whales echolocation abilities

Orca Relief Citizens’ Alliance was founded as a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Since 1997, Orca Relief has focused specifically on learning what may be causing Orca mortality, and in reducing this death rate. Orca Relief believes that killer whales, as the largest species of the dolphin family, represent an excellent opportunity to learn more about brains larger than humans. Orca Relief also believes that the Puget Sound populations are most likely to provide that knowledge.

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