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NEWS RELEASE - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE JULY 22, 2020 FROM: ORCA NETWORK - Connecting whales and people in the Pacific Northwest

CONTACTS: Susan Berta/Howard Garrett ( - 360-661-3739; or Cindy Hansen Cindy Hansen, ( - 360-223-5666

ORCA NETWORK LAUNCHES "SHARE THE WATER" WHALE SAFE VESSEL PROGRAM Orca Network, a Whidbey Island based nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of the whales of the Pacific Northwest, has just launched their new program "Share the Water" Whale Safe Vessel Program.

For two decades Orca Network has worked with NOAA Fisheries, Washington State Ferries, the Center for Whale Research, Cascadia Research Collective and others to collect and share whale sightings data throughout the Salish Sea and along the Pacific coast. Through the popular Whale Sighting Network, people throughout the region are engaged through this community science effort to observe, collect and share whale sightings. The Sighting Network provides important data on habitat use and changes over time by multiple whale species, helping to inform agency decisions and management plans for endangered Southern Resident orcas and other species. Orca Network reaches over 170,000 people via Facebook pages, and 14,000 receive weekly whale reports with photos, videos, news, research and links to educational events and materials.

Though Orca Network's Whale Sighting Network has focused on shore-based whale watching and onshore education, outreach to boaters has always been a part of the Sighting Network. For years Orca Network has provided education to watercraft operators through distribution of Be Whale Wise materials, frequent postings of whale safe vessel etiquette on social media, our website, and weekly whale reports, and outreach to tens of thousands through our Langley Whale Center, community events and workshops. Said one member of the Sighting Network, “The sighting reports arriving in my inbox are always interesting and encourage me to be a more careful, sensitive boater.” All of the education, outreach and advocacy done by Orca Network focuses on helping people in the Salish Sea make a real connection with the whales - so they want to learn more about them, which leads people to care and take action to help the whales.

One "side effect" of the Whale Sighting Network has been many eyes on the whales from shore, watching and reporting on not only the whales, but the behavior of vessels/watercraft around them. Orca Network refers all complaints to NOAA enforcement and the Be Whale Wise website, where observed infractions and/or harassment can be reported. The vessel/whale issue has become so polarized in the Salish Sea, the result has been many people becoming angry with all watercraft of every type, regardless of their behavior. Given we and the whales all live in an urban waterway, where there will always be many watercraft or vessels on the water, Orca Network thinks there is a better approach.

Orca Network would love to see increased efforts in education, awareness, and enforcement for recreational watercraft of all types, particularly in the narrower inland waters of Puget Sound. Extended visits by Transient/Bigg’s orcas, humpback and gray whales are increasing, especially during spring and summer boating seasons; and Southern Resident orcas rely on Puget Sound for late fall/early winter foraging. The situations observed in Puget Sound the past few weeks clearly demonstrate more needs to be done to address this issue. “What we are seeing in Puget Sound is the perfect storm of an increasing human population and associated increase in recreational and marine traffic, along with greatly increased use of this same habitat by several species of whales” said Orca Network’s co-founder Susan Berta.

Orca Network received partial funding from Patagonia's Seattle Store for our "Share the Water" Whale Safe Vessel Program early this year, and have been in discussions with regional ports and other partners about this program as one of several ways to increase safety for whales and vessel operators in Puget Sound. The COVID19 pandemic has slowed this process and averted some hoped for funds, but we have decided to move forward with the launch of the program, beginning with the distribution of materials and a series of webinars beginning in August. Orca Network believes education is key as a proactive approach and often is better than enforcement alone. Through the use of the Share the Water Facebook page and distribution of Whale Safe Vessel information (including Be Whale Wise, Washington State Parks Orca Safe boating stickers, and Share the Water information cards (which will include resources on regulations, where to report whale sightings and harassment, and where to report marine mammal strandings) we can continue to broaden our education and outreach to help others adopt safe etiquette when around whales on the water. By educating and engaging vessel operators about whales and marine mammals in the waters around them, we believe they will be motivated to be more careful boaters, and be inspired to learn more and take action to help the whales of the Salish Sea.

In the coming weeks Orca Network will begin distributing Share the Water Information and reaching out to ports, marinas and boating and yacht clubs throughout Puget Sound, and will be holding a series of Whale Safe Vessel Webinars. Check out the Orca Network and Share the Water Facebook pages, and our Website Sightings page for more information and to sign up for Orca Network's Whale reports (see links below). Please report whales to the Whale Sighting Network at 1-866-ORCANET, or on the Orca Network Facebook page.

Website and Facebook Page links:
Orca Network Whale Sightings webpage
Orca Network Map of Puget Sound Whale Sighting Viewpoints
Orca Network Facebook page
Share the Water Facebook page
Langley Whale Center Facebook page
Be Wale Wise website


Photo by Amanda Wegner


NOAA Includes The Killer Whale Known As Lolita In The Endangered Species Act Listing Of Southern Resident Killer Whales.

Late on February 3, a new page went up on the NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region website stating: *February 6, 2015: *We announced a final rule that amends the ESA listing of the Southern Resident killer whale distinct population segment by removing the exclusion for captive members of the population, hence recognizing, "Lolita" as a protected member of the Southern Resident killer whale distinct population segment.

The date given seemed incongruous with the date it appeared, but the meaning is clear: The L pod orca called Lolita, brutally captured along with six others in August, 1970, has now been granted status as a protected member of her family under the Endangered Species Act, making it illegal to harass, harm, deliver, receive, carry, transport, or ship her in interstate or foreign commerce, in the course of a commercial activity, or to sell or offer her for sale in interstate or foreign commerce.

This announcement does not lead directly to Lolita's return to her native waters. The terms harass and harm may or may not mean that confinement in a small concrete tank amounts to harm. We certainly think it does. Lolita is in surprisingly good health, which helps ensure that she would accommodate the trip home and re-adapt well when returned to her familiar waters, but all the other 40 or so captured members of her family had succumbed to the stresses of captivity almost 30 years ago, so there is reason to believe captivity is harming her despite her patience, courage, and resilience.

A simultaneous law suit against the USDA, now on appeal and set to be heard the week of March 23, could prove that the Seaquarium whale tank violates three provisions of the Animal Welfare Act - the dimensions are unlawfully small, there is no protection from the Miami sun, and she has no orca companionship. These regulations are designed to prevent harm, so if it is established in court that the Seaquarium is in violation of them, the harm done by the violations will also be established, so it may be a violation of the ESA to continue to keep Lolita there.

We believe the only remedy for the harm being done to Lolita in captivity is to return her to a protected seapen within a cove in the Salish Sea, her native habitat Orca Network's Retirement Plan. She would be provided all the care and companionship she experiences now, but eventually would be able to swim long distances in the San Juan Islands she likley remembers well, and have the chance to communicate with and ultimately reunite with the family she was taken from 50 years ago.

Keiko's release was successful except for not finding his family - he was able to fish and survive for five years, independently swimming across the ocean, but without other orcas from his extended family to socialize with he turned to humans for companionship. Lolita is a much better candidate for release - she is in good health, and we know her family - they are one of the best known and most studied communities of orcas in the world.

Our proposal for Lolita's return to the waters where she was born has been available for 20 years and has been refined and improved over the years, and provides the best and most humane option for Lolita's retirement years.

This ruling is a huge step toward interjecting some mandated concern for Lolita's health and welfare that can override the strictly monetary considerations that got her there in the first place. Our society doesn't like animal abuse, and the more we learn about orcas the less we can tolerate seeing them locked up as circus acts. The legal initiatives that led to this ruling have been brilliant and effective, as the mood of the country shifts from acceptance to rejection of captive orca entertainment enterprises. Things that seemed impossible a year ago seem doable today.


Howard Garrett & Susan Berta
Orca Network
360-320-7176 (cell)

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