The orca iconography in Puget Sound tourist gift shops borders on sappy, but for those lucky enough to have seen an orca in the flesh, the love of these whales is not so hard to understand. Yet the whale tourism industry may also come with a darker side: Are we literally loving the Southern Resident killer whales to death?
The Orca Relief Citizens’ Alliance — a non-profit dedicated to reducing the mortality rates of Puget Sound’s endangered local killer whales — thinks we are, through the demand to see orcas via boat-based whale watching tours. So the organization is pushing for the establishment of a whale protection zone on the west side of San Juan Island, where the orcas frequently hunt and rest.
As Mark Anderson, the group’s founder and chairman, explains, disturbance noise from boats interferes with the sonar the whales use to communicate and to hunt. “It’s like a loud piece of music, right over the frequencies they use,” Anderson says. Putting further restrictions on boats within this zone “would be like giving them a dining room they can use without harassment.”