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Activist group calls for San Juan whale protection zone

In this Dec. 6, 2014 photo provided by the Victoria Marine Science Association, biologists examine a dead orca at Bates Beach, Comox, British Columbia. The necropsy on the endangered orca found dead off Vancouver Island showed it was pregnant with a full-term fetus, and that someone removed several teeth from the dead killer whale before it could be examined. (AP Photo/Victoria Marine Science Association, Marcie Callewaert)

Activists are calling for a limited, whale protection zone off San Juan Island to help the declining local population of endangered orcas.

The protection zone could include a no-wake speed limit to cut noise and discourage whale watching boats that sometimes pursue orcas.

“They need more chance to rest and to socialize in a quieter environment,” said Bruce Stedman, executive director of Orca Relief Citizens Alliance. “But particularly, they need a quieter environment to hunt and that hunting is even more difficult when the salmon are as low as they are and have been for the last couple of years.”

Orca Relief Alliance delivered a report Wednesday outlining its proposal to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The nonprofit organization wants federal regulators to consider a three-quarter-mile-wide zone from April 15-October 15. He argues it’s something that could be done quickly to help orcas. Other issues, such as falling salmon stocks and toxins in the environment, could take decades to reverse, Stedman said.

The Southern Resident Killer Whale population is declining and is listed as endangered. A pregnant female was recently found dead off Vancouver Island.

“Given the decline, and this latest death is just an indicator of that, to do nothing and just sit back and say, ‘Well, we don’t know whether this will be effective or not, so we won’t do it,’ we think would be irresponsible,” Stedman argued.

The orca protection organization claims that current vessel separation rules and voluntary “no-go-zone” are not doing enough to protect the local orca population, which has dwindled from 92-77 in recent years.

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