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OLYMPIA – Legislation to further protect Washington’s endangered southern resident orca population was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee today.

Senate Bill 5371, sponsored by Sen. Liz Lovelett (D-Anacortes), requires whale-watching boats and other marine vessels to refrain from approaching within 1,000 yards of a southern resident killer whale. The measure marks an increase in distance from the current 300-yard buffer on approach, and is based on recommendations from the Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force.

“Orcas are such an emblematic symbol of Washington state’s ecosystem, but climate change and converging issues like noise pollution, food contaminants, and lack of salmon have worsened the species’ plight for years,” said Lovelett. “It’s crucial that we step in and provide as much support as possible to these iconic animals, and I’m proud of our work this session.”

“The collaboration and bipartisan votes on this bill shows the dedication of the Legislature to take care of our natural resources and wildlife,” said Rep. Debra Lekanoff (D-Bow). “This new law streamlines regulations for our whale watchers and recreational boaters so they can support one another to keep our whales safe and enjoy the Salish Sea together.”

Latest reports estimate that only 73 southern resident orcas remain in existence, with at least 12 designated as vulnerable. The legislation puts in place the strictest vessel distancing requirements for orcas on the west coast, aiming to protect the critically endangered species from further decline.