Peninsula skipper likes new law keeping boats 100 feet from orcas

PORT TOWNSEND — The operator of North Olympic Peninsula’s only whale watching tour service, Puget Sound Express, says he favors new state legislation requiring a buffer zone between vessels and whales and already observes the buffers voluntarily.

The legislature passed House Bill 2514 this month. The bill, which awaits Gov. Chris Gregoire’s signature, requres all vessels to approach no closer than 100 yards from whales.

That includes orcas — the toothed whales that are the largest members of the dolphin family seen on the Puget Sound Express tours of the Strait of Juan de Fuca between Port Townsend and Friday Harbor on the San Juan Islands.

Puget Sound Express owner Pete Hanke said the legislation won’t change anything for his customers when the tour service opens its whale watching season on Saturday.

Hanke has been operating under the voluntary guidelines put forth by Whale Watch Operators Association Northwest for 14 years, and the law will make little difference to his business.

“I support this legislation,” said Hanke, who is also a vice-president in the association.

“All the law is doing is confirming guidelines which we already followed.”

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