Regulations on Vessel Effects for Southern Resident Killer Whales

Vessel effects, including physical interference and sound, are a potential contributing factor in the population’s decline.

Regulations on Vessel Effects for Southern Resident Killer Whales

We listed the Southern Resident killer whales as endangered under the Endangered Species (ESA) on November 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 Resident killer whales 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 vessel 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 Southern Resident killer whales.

May 2018: NOAA Fisheries webstory on new boating safeguards for Southern Resident killer whales.

December 2017: NOAA released Technical Memo NMFSOPR-58: Reducing Disturbance from Vessels to Southern Resident Killer Whales: Assessing the Effectiveness of the 2011 Federal Regulations in Advancing Recovery Goals

January 12, 2017: Federal Register Notice of receipt and request for public comments on a petition requesting that NMFS establish a whale protection zone

January 12, 2017:Media Release announcing comment period on whale protection zone petition

November 2016: Petition requesting NMFS establish a whale protection zone

August 1, 2013: Media release announcing $925,000 Species Recovery Grant to WDFW to increase enforcement efforts

March 28, 2013: Killer whale protection workshop

May 16, 2011: Vessel regulations to protect killer whales became effective

April 14, 2011: News release on killer whale vessel regulations

April 14, 2011: Federal Register notice on final killer whale vessel regulations (76 FR 20870)

April 8, 2011: We announced final regulations to protect killer whales in Washington State from the effects of various vessel activities.

January 10, 2010: Public comment period ends for proposed killer whale vessel regulations

October 19, 2009: NOAA Fisheries extends public comment period for proposed killer whale vessel regulations (74 FR 53454)

July 29, 2009: Federal Register notice on proposed killer whale vessel regulations (76 FR 37674)

Last updated by West Coast Regional Office on March 31, 2020