Kayaking San Juan Island in Jeopardy??

I know that many may have forgotten all the mess last fall when NOAA announced the possible closure of the majority of San Juan Islands west side. The west side of San Juan Island is one of the best places to kayak in all the San Juan Islands.

The following link is full of information from last fall that I posted here on my blog. There are links in the post that will take you to the Recovery Plan and info on the closure prospects.

So what is going on today?

The San Juan Island Kayak season has been in full swing and the season has been busy. As a commercial operator that runs tours out of San Juan County Park we have agreed to new terms in our permit that is call the Kayaker Code of Conduct. This is good stewardship information that we pass along to every guest that we take to the park for kayaking. We collect signatures from each guest that they have received the information. If you are a kayaker heading out on your own to San Juan County Park. You will have to pay a fee and listen to a short presentation before you can launch from the park.

Here is some info that some may not know. There are observers along the coast that are recording kayaker behavior around the whales to see if the Kayaker Code of Conduct is enough to have people act in a more respectful manner around killer whales. This information that is collected will be used to determine if: A. Commercial Kayak companies can be a self regulated industry. B. If the public will follow the new regulations without enforcement.

What does all this mean?

So as of last year after the public comment period NOAA decided to have a grace year where the new Kayaker Code of Conduct would be in place and monitor its success.

In the end the area that we all love to kayak is still in jeopardy of being closed to all kayakers. I am sure that this fall NOAA will have a public statement to present. What that statement will be, I have no idea. Either way I fear over regulation by any government organization.

From an outdoor enthusiast point of view, I hate to see any public lands and/or waterways closed. I understand the need to protect resource such as wildlife and land. I come from a biology background and support conservation. But when we have an issue like we have here, where there is a total lack of information on how Southern Resident Killer Whales react to kayaks. Combined with an overwhelming amount of data that supports depletion of food resource as the major cause for concern for the killer whale population here in the San Juan Islands.

I fully support realistic endeavours that will foster a healthy salmon population. Given the complex problems dealing with fisheries I find this should be the area where most energy should be spent. Figuring out a sustainable way of replenishing fish stocks for the San Juan Island region would go a long way to fostering a healthy environment for the killer whales here.

The killer whale population has arguably been in decline. I say arguably because when we look a the historical numbers before orca captures and I am not sure we are taking fish (salmon) stocks at the same time period in to account. The carrying capacity for species change when the habitat evolves. Basically we cannot expect the numbers to increase for a species if their habitat cannot support feeding at an increased population level. We all know that salmon populations are low and can then deduce that we cannot expect the Southern Resident population of killer whales to reach historic levels.

If we look at the numbers of Souther Resident Killer Whales over the past 10 years we do see a rise and fall of the population. A possible indicator of reaching a threshold for the habitat. So why do we see a higher mortality rate some years vs other years? There are some orcas in the population that are fairly old and the life span of killer whales have been decreasing due to increase toxins in the environment and the food web. So if we have a bad salmon season and the killer whales are having a harder time making a living. We might see an increased mortality that season due to a couple of reasons: 1. Natural mortality of aging animals in the pods. 2. Bioaccumulation of toxins combined with the lack of food means the animals will have to produce energy from fat stores. This will increase the likely hood of death by the toxins interfering with other physiological processes.

So in the end I feel the government should be spending all of their energy working on the food source issue. But instead they have amassed a lot to money to challenge that kayaks, of all vessels on the water, are contributing to reduction of the Southern Resident Killer Whale population. In a time where government resources are maxed out and that economies are backed against the wall. We see a total disregard of tax dollars going to solve a problem, that in the end, will do nothing to save the killer whales. Harder questions should be asked here. Ones that justify the expense. How can we get good to the killer whale population? How can we further protect our watersheds and waterways from toxins?

But instead we get, kayakers are a threat to the Southern Resident Killer Whale population.

So keep your ears and eyes open. There will be a statement coming this fall. This is only my intuition that leads me to believe NOAA will start following up with the closure. Read news papers or check back here. I will post any updated info I get.

Help protect San Juan Island kayaking and support logical, sustainable conservation efforts.

Thanks for reading.


AKZ said…
Hey J--
I have been out of the loop on this issue since we have been in Wales. Thanks for the post. I'll be looking for more info. Are there any public campaigns to support more research? Amanda
Monika said…
Great thoughts, and spot-on as usual Jason.
Sarah7 said…
As a kayaker with a house on the west side i couldn't agree more with your comments. The commercial whale watch boats offer a greater threat, at least when they don't follow the rules. The biggest offenders appear to be the Canadian operated boats.
Sarah7 said…
I should also add for Monika's benefit that we are fans of the Western Prince and Jim Maya's whale watch boats :)

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