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Recommendation: 17

Status: Complete

Establish a statewide, “go-slow” bubble for small vessels and commercial whale-watching vessels within half a nautical mile of Southern Resident orcas.


Action 1

Enact legislation to create a half-mile, “go-slow” zone around Southern Resident orcas. Vessels within the zone should not exceed 7 knots.

Action 2

Coordinate and align regulations among state, federal, and Canadian authorities and provide enforcement, public outreach, and education as needed.

Implementation Details

In the 2019 legislative session, the Washington State Legislature and Governor should update Revised Code of Washington 77.15.740 to establish a statewide, “go slow” bubble for small vessels operating within a half nautical mile of Southern Resident orcas. “Go slow” is defined as a 7 knot speed over ground, as measured using a Global Positioning System. It is intended that law enforcement officers will use discretion when enforcing this section and granting exceptions for safety, and will provide public outreach and education when appropriate.

Recent Progress

  • In 2023, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 5371, which requires all vessels to keep a distance of 1,000 yards from Southern Residents starting January 2025.
  • The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife submitted its first Southern Resident Killer Whale Vessel Adaptive Management 2022 Legislative Report. This report must be submitted every two years and analyzes how effective the state’s commercial whale watching rules, license fee structure, and approach distance rules are and makes recommendations for changes, if necessary.
  • Senate Bill 5371 and House Bill 1145 are being considered by the Legislature.
  • In 2019, the Legislature revised the Revised Code of Washington 77.15.740 to prohibit vessels from exceeding a speed of 7 knots within a half nautical mile of Southern Resident orcas.
  • The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission received a one-time payment of $150,000 to train staff and local governments and add regulation information about Southern Resident orcas to its boater education curriculum and testing. Most recreational boaters must pass a test to receive their boater safety card.

More details may be found in the progress reports in the resources library.