Regulations on Vessel Effects

We listed the Southern Resident killer whales as endangered under the Endangered Species (ESA) on Nov. 18, 2005. We identified vessel effects, including physical interference and sound, as a potential contributing factor in the population’s decline. Before the ESA listing, we had designated Southern Residents as a depleted stock under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).

Both the MMPA and the ESA prohibit take, including harassment, of killer whales, but these statutes do not prohibit specified acts. The recovery plan for Southern Resident killer whales includes as a management action the evaluation of current vessel guidelines and the need for regulations and/or protected areas.

In 2007, we requested input on potential regulations to protect killer whales from the effects of various vessel activities. We released proposed vessels regulations in July 2009, held public meetings, and took comments on them until January 2010. The regulations were finalized in 2011 and we are evaluating how effective they have been in reducing vessel impacts to the whales.