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Recommendation: 46

Status: Underway

Expand the Governor’s Maritime Blue scope of work and provide funding to implement recommendations from the Southern Resident Killer Whale Force and pursue shipping and other maritime innovations that benefit Southern Residents.


Action 1

Provide incentives for low-carbon, zero-emission, or low-impact vessels in state waters.

Action 2

Expand the Washington Maritime Blue initiative and the State’s strategy for the “blue economy” to encompass goals and recommendations from the Governor’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force, and provide additional resources.

Implementation Details

  • Vessels are a significant source of carbon dioxide emissions contributing directly to climate change and must be reduced over time to meet international and science-based goals to stabilize temperatures. The task force recommends a targeted approach focused on reducing emissions from the vessels spending the most time and making the highest number of trips in local waters. As it applies to whale-watching vessels, one option to implement this recommendation could be to prioritize licensing for zero-emission or low-carbon vessels.
  • Although reducing emissions is a top priority, underwater noise and vessel disturbance is one of the three primary threats facing Southern Residents. Ocean acidification extends the spatial spread of underwater noise (for frequencies up to 10kHz), making it more difficult for orcas to communicate. The task force recognizes that while some emerging vessel propeller technologies may reduce emissions, they also can increase underwater sounds at frequencies that interfere with orca communication and echolocation. Addressing this trade-off will require research, innovation, and investment to develop and deploy technologies that reduce both noise and carbon emissions.
  • To catalyze this research and innovation, the task force recommends supporting Washington Maritime Blue, a strategic alliance for maritime innovation and sustainability. Maritime Blue is an independent, nonprofit partnership between industry, the public sector, research and training institutions, and community organizations tasked with implementing Washington State’s Strategy for the Blue Economy. The effort covers a number of potential strategies for innovation and sustainability in shipping that could benefit orcas (like sensor technologies, noise- and emissions-reduction efforts, propeller design and retrofits, etc.); however, in order to advance opportunities that provide mutual benefits for Washington’s shipping industries and orcas, a clear governance mechanism within Maritime Blue is needed to incorporate priorities for orcas and sustain the effort over time.
  • To implement this recommendation, Maritime Blue should modify its governance structure (for example, by creating a dedicated board member seat or subgroup) to address Southern Resident issues and coordinate closely with the successor to the task force. Actions could include identifying and addressing shipping and other maritime impacts on orca prey and vessel noise, disturbance, and emissions.

Recent Progress

  • In 2021, the Puget Sound Partnership received $500,000 to implement shipping noise reduction initiatives and monitoring programs in Puget Sound, in coordination with Canadian and United States authorities. The Partnership hired Maritime Blue to establish and administer the Quiet Sound program to better understand and reduce the cumulative impacts of acoustic and physical disturbance from large commercial vessels on Southern Residents throughout their range in Washington.
  • The Maritime Blue and the Marine Exchange of Puget Sound proposed a Joint Innovation Project to expedite immediate and successful implementation of shipping mitigation measures by supporting and scaling the Whale Report Alert System.

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