OLYMPIA – Legislation to further protect Washington’s endangered southern resident orca population was heard in the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee today.

Senate Bill 5371, sponsored by Sen. Liz Lovelett (D-Anacortes), would require boats and other marine vessels to refrain from approaching within 1,000 yards of an orca. This would be an increase in distance, as current law mandates a 300-yard buffer on approach.

“Our iconic southern resident population needs all the help it can get to continue to live and thrive in the Salish Sea,” said Lovelett. “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. I’m proud to be taking yet another step towards protecting our beloved orcas this session.”

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

The public hearing is available to watch live or as an archive on TVW.org. The legislation now awaits further action in committee.