Hobbes Buchanan proposing Operation Whale Whisperer to county council Feb. 6

Hobbes Buchanan will present his plan for "Operation Whale Whisperer" to San Juan County Council during Tuesday, February 6 council meeting . He proposes partnering two vessels with government agencies to protect the whales by offering to help enforce regulations, tow dead whales, help disentangle whales and more. The presentation is the fourth agenda item in the 9:15 a.m. time slot.   AGENDA.

Photo by NOAA

In a memo to the council he explains why he started OPR Orcas Rescue and Protection.. The draft of the plan is posted below.

Why I Started Orca Protection and Rescue

I have worked as a whale watch captain since 2002, when there were approximately 90+ Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKWs) to see, and approximately 20 boats watching them. Now there are only 76 whales and 97+ Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA) vessels, and they are faster, bigger and louder! Some carry 250 - 300 passengers.

During the 2017 season we didn’t see our starving, beloved and protected SRKWs much, but we did see a sub-species known as Transient or Biggs (mammal eating) orcas, which are not protected, along with humpback whales. The behavior I observed by some so called professional whale watch operators put me over the edge! The thing that really bothered me was how aggressive they were on one particular day - 4 transient orcas were playing, and a baby was nursing, as the whales went into Wasp Pass, which is a very narrow passage about a mile long. They were followed by about 25 whale watch boats, 10 private boats and a ferry. The whales became panicked and formed a tight protective group, it looked like they were being herded into shallow rocky waters. The baby did not nurse for a least 2 hours according to Soundwatch... 

(EDITOR's NOTE: Soundwatch sent in this statement February 6: Soundwatch does not have expertise in the field of orca behavior nor would the organization make a claim of whale behavior that can not be supported through our monitoring program.)

When I went back out later in the day on my second trip, there were only 2 boats with the whales, and what a difference - the whales’ behavior had changed, they were back to playing, nursing, breaching and frolicking. This changed me - I knew that I had to make a difference!

The PWWA has the opportunity to educate over 450,000 people every year about the health of the whales, marine wildlife and oceans. For example, did you know that almost all fish, whales, mammals and seabirds have plastics in their bellies? Did you know that some of the eggs forage fish lay in eel grasses and kelp are not viable due to pollution, which stormwater run-off plays a large role in? We all love going to Costco, but we don’t think about the millions of cars dripping a little bit of oil onto the lot which ends up in storm drains and then the Salish Sea. The SRKW’s need salmon, and salmon need forage fish to survive. We have to change our ways now and fast. If we lose these whales guess who’s next!

The PWWA is a multi-million-dollar-a-year organization, and they could make the difference, but choose not to as an association. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few companies that do educate passengers, and choose not to participate in bad behavior, but they all should respectfully observe these magnificent animals.

This is why I’m working to form a new organization dedicated to the preservation of the Southern Resident Killer Whales, transient orcas, and other marine life in the Salish Sea. Orca Protection and Rescue will work with governments at all levels and with other organizations in this endeavor. There is not enough time left for the Southern Residents for there to be turf wars and ego battles among the humans.

I’ve witnessed the decline first hand and have come to understand how we have all contributed to the decline. I have plans to remove plastics and ghost fishing gear from the Salish Sea, control the negative impacts from the vessels attracted by the orcas, and my vessels will be equipped to handle emergencies including whale and wildlife entanglements and spills.

Please like and follow the Orca Protection and Rescue FB page.

FOUNDER/STAFF: Captain Alan “Hobbes” Buchanan grew up in a tug and barge family in England and has been involved in the maritime industry on and off for 40+ years. He has been the owner of a San Juan Island whale and wildlife watching company for six years, and prior to that he captained for several other companies for eight years and was primary captain for Soundwatch during the 2007 season.


WHO WE ARE: - We are a group of very passionate people who love whales and marine wildlife.

OUR MISSION: To protect and rescue whales and marine wildlife in the Salish Sea and Puget Sound.

OUR VISION:To help save the whales and marine wildlife of the Salish Sea and Puget Sound for future generations.

WHY? -With a record number of transient orca and humpback whales now being seen in the Salish Sea, and the Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKWs) being seen less and less, and with at least four, recently recorded ship/boat strikes in the area, it’s clear that these animals need our help. Our beloved SRKWs- J, K and L pods - are hurtling towards extinction due to pollutants and lack of salmon. Transient orcas and humpbacks are here more frequently in search of food. We want to do everything in our power to protect them while they are living in, or traveling through, the Salish Sea or Puget Sound.

GOALS: Our two vessels will be equipped and ready to partner with local agencies to help protect and respond in the following areas:

San Juan County Council</p> <p style="padding-left: 30px;">County Environmental Resources Manager

Sheriff’s Dept.

Town of Friday Harbor

PWWA - Pacific Whale Watching Association

Orca Conservancy

CWR - Center for Whale Research

NOAA - National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

The Whale Museum’s Soundwatch Program

SeaDoc Society

Stranding Network

WDFW - Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

DFO - Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Canada

USCG - United States Coast Guard

USN - United States Navy

VTS - Seattle Vessel Traffic Service

StraitWatch - Canada’s equivalent of Soundwatch

Friends of the San Juans

WSF - Washington State Ferries

POTENTIAL FUNDING RESOURCES: We are hoping to access grant money from, and/or in partnership with, NOAA, WDFW, San Juan County, PWWA, Town of Friday Harbor, WSF, and other partners listed above. In addition, there has been a lot of private interest. We may also use Kickstarter or Go-Fund-Me campaigns. We already have $300,000 invested in vessels, cameras and equipment, and we’re now looking for funding to pay for operations which will include fuel, maintenance, spill response equip, light bars, spot lights, disentanglement gear, clothing, AIS, website, 2 iPads, live 360 degree camera, first aid and fire fighting equipment, salaries, moorage, etc. We have a separate estimated budget document.

FOUNDER/STAFF: Captain Alan “Hobbes” Buchanan grew up in a tug and barge family in England and has been involved in the maritime industry on and off for 40+ years. He has been the owner of a San Juan Island whale and wildlife watching company for six years, and prior to that he captained for several other companies for eight years and was primary captain for Soundwatch during the 2007 season.

** We will work with the PWWA to monitor commercial vessel traffic around whales. One idea is to encourage whale watch companies to change their departure times so that whales are not viewed by too many boats at any one time. Whales would perhaps only be viewed between the hours of 8 am and 7 pm; for example, in Baja, whales are only viewed from 8 am-5 pm, and we’ve collected other “Best Practices” from around the world. Ultimately, we would perhaps see no more than 8 whale watch boats and 4 private boats viewing on scene at any one time, and only viewing from one side of the whales, with a 30 minute total viewing period, with 15 minute viewings for private boats. Priority will be given to companies that travel furthest, depending on where the whales are located, perhaps from Vancouver and Port Townsend, and also to slower vessels. This may also help slow vessels down that transit too close to seal haul-outs, so that seals are not washed off shore by boat wakes.

In addition, whale watch companies should be required to install and hardwire AIS (automatic identification systems) so that we, and the County and/or other necessary enforcement as required by USCG, can identify all commercial boats in the area, at any time.

Also, we know that whale watching companies get a bad rap, when in fact they are well behaved and educate thousands of people every year. Orca Protection & Rescue will work with these companies to create complementary language and education so they are all on the same page. For example, all companies should be explaining that what we put down our sinks at home and what we throw in our landfills end up in the Salish Sea, Puget Sound and oceans. We must all work together now, in harmony with our surroundings.


  • Ted Stevens Wednesday, 07 February 2018 16:02 Comment Link

    Wont that just add another two chase boats to the problem? Endangered Species Act: Illegal to harass or pursue. Which part of "Whale Watch" We guarantee sightings" made by Whale Watch boats is not a pursuit? Which part of following whales till their fuel runs out or the Tourists money runs out is not Harassment?

  • H Appel Wednesday, 07 February 2018 12:20 Comment Link

    Yes! We must all work together to allow the Salish Sea orcas to thrive and increase in number.


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