Thomas: Final days to comment on No-Go zone

Dear All,

The public comment deadline for supporting a protection zone for our Southern Resident orca whales is April 13th. The SRKWs are facing extinction. The science is irrefutable--the whales need to be able to access the food that is available and the noise & disturbance from commercial & recreational whale-watching is a serious impediment.

Let's not watch them go extinct on our watch.

NOAA, along with many of us, have concerns about the economic impact of a Whale Protection Zone--as do those whose work encompasses whale-watching. But there is a way to enhance the visitors' experience as well as to enhance the Southern Residents orca whales' experiences. The commercial whale-watching industry has the opportunity to transform itself into cutting edge eco-tourism by offering nature tours that do not pollute the waters with noise and toxic fuel and fumes. The beauty of the San Juan Islands is found in its multitude of quiet bays where nature and wildlife can be experienced peacefully in a way that nourishes the soul and spirit. Too often, whale-watching is a high-speed noisy race through the seas. This is an assault on the environment and often an assault on the sensibilities of the passengers. The policy of "guaranteed whale sighting" amplifies the abuse of the environment and, consequently, dangerously impairs ability of the Southern Resident orca whales to forage freely in their own waters.

Visitors deserve to experience all the very reasons why those of us who live here, have chosen to live here. Living in natural beauty does not mean living in the midst of noisy, high-speed chases that pollute the air, the waters, and the experiences of both orca whales and visitors. There is plenty of experience to be had in quiet bays and onshore. And it is experience that deepens the connection to nature that those of us who live here experience continually. Protecting the whales can be a motivating ethic promoting environmental integrity. All over the world this integrity is a draw to visitors--it enhances tourism.

The San Juan Islands, in the midst of the Salish Sea, reflect the greatest of environmental vulnerability. Holding businesses, residents, and visitors to the highest form of protection of, and respect for, the environment is a blueprint for survival--and a road map to a viable, honorable, and laudable tourism industry.

Below is a copy of my comment to NOAA. I am attaching science support from the Orca Relief Citizens' Alliance. Please use any of this information in your own comment to:

Thank you! Please share.

My public comment to NOAA:

Full disclosure: I am the San Juan County Coordinator for Orca Relief Citizens’ Alliance. I have lived on San Juan Island for more than 25 years and have witnessed the steady degradation of the SRKWs environment due to increasing whale-watching boats—commercial and recreational. Communing with the whales—from shore—grew into a deeply appreciated experience and for more than 20 years I went out to the west side to see them. These days, however, I search them out less and less—because it is too painful. It might be “anecdotal” but there is no end to the stories of those of us living here who witness the continual harassment and obstruction of the SRKWs as they attempt to forage, communicate, and rest in their home waters. Rules and regulations are ignored, the SRKWs are dispersed, their paths obstructed, and they are consistently beleaguered by a whale-watching community that loves them but doesn’t care about them—sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes out of greed. This is the conundrum of these times.

When I was researching and writing “Battle in Seattle—The Story Behind and Beyond the WTO Demonstrations,” I was faced with acknowledging the ever-increasing destruction resulting from the 1886 Supreme Court decision, Santa Clara County vs Southern Pacific Railroad, that gave corporations the rights of personhood. This decision, upheld by the Supreme Court in 2010 via Citizens United, created a story of human progress through the lens of a corporatized consciousness that has eradicated the finer sensibilities of human consciousness. Greed continues to be legitimized and the results are growing more and more self-evident as the corporatization of life-at-large destroys life-at-large. This is what is playing out in the beleaguered Salish Sea, where toxins, noise, and traffic is taking a massive toll on the sea life that has called it home for millions of years. The SRKWs represent the very top of the food chain, as well as the most advanced species.

I am not a scientist; but I believe in science—authentic science. And authentic science irrefutably supports the SRKWs need for protection. They breathe air, but they live in water. Their echo-location abilities mean everything—from sensing where they are, to locating food, to communicating. The high-pitched sound from whale-watching boats masks these life-preserving abilities causing stress as well as incapacity. World-renown bioacoustics scientist, Dr. Christopher Clark, recently gave several talks in the Northwest about the ways in which the SRKWs are negatively affected by whale-watching boat noise. They are impaired on every level. This, along with the lack of salmon and all the other environmental assaults they experience, continually heightens their vulnerability to imminent extinction. The ways in which the Southern Resident orca whales have been exploited range from self-serving science to financial gain. Everything from selling products to selling porn has been used to make money from these majestic animals. The real scientists know well the current risks to the SRKWs. They are doing the real work—while others are selling the SRKWs out to such entities as Pornhub, the largest online source of pornography. There is no end to the exploitation at-large and if we don’t act soon it will be an exploitation ending in extinction.

In 1994, while Superintendent of San Juan County Parks, I said, “No,” to launching Jet-ski whale-watching tours from the county park on the west side of SJI. It was an immediate and instinctive response, a “no-brainer.” Three years later, this decision, which was supported by the San Juan County Board of Commissioners, was upheld by the Washington State Supreme Court in a 24-page decision that was a very big “brainer.” It set a precedent across the country that enabled National Parks to control Jet-ski activity in their waters and its impact reached from the Northwest to the Florida Everglades.

The proposed Whale Protection Zone lies within county waters but because of the international boundary and the migrating reach of the SRKWs, a multi-faceted solution over a much larger geographic area will be required. NOAA and possibly the State of Washington have that reach, but only NOAA can deal with issues related to Canada, Oregon and California in a unified way.

Protecting wildlife from the assault of personal watercraft was a major victory for the marine environment—our environment—the environment out of which we emerged so many millions of years ago. We now have an opportunity to do something critical in the annals of history—save the Southern Residents from extinction. By doing so, we save ourselves—metaphorically, spiritually, and quite likely, physically. Therefore, I am writing in support of the petition on behalf of a Whale Protection Zone for the Southern Resident Killer Whales. Until we can take down the dams and restore the salmon it is the very least we can do.

Thank you.

Janet Thomas


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