State seeking public input on commercial whale watching rules

WDFW – The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is looking for feedback on the environmental analysis of options for commercial whale watching rules designed to protect Southern Resident killer whales while considering license holders’ economic viability.

The new rules, prompted by Senate Bill 5577 passed in 2019, would be intended to reduce impacts of vessel noise and disturbance on Southern Resident killer whales so that they can effectively find food, rest and socialize.

The rules are expected to take effect in 2021.

“We’re using the best available science to support the conservation of these iconic animals,” said Julie Watson, WDFW killer whale policy lead. “The environmental impact analysis is a valuable tool in understanding the tradeoffs among various options we have been exploring in the agency and with our advisory committee. As we move forward in this process, it’s important to us that we hear from the broad spectrum of people who are invested in Southern Resident killer whale recovery.” 

Throughout 2020, WDFW staff received input from the Commercial Whale Watching Licensing Program Advisory Committee as well as an intergovernmental coordination group and an independent science panel.

In addition to the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) process, the rules are being informed by a report summarizing the science and economic impacts on small businesses. 

The public is invited to attend a virtual public meeting from 6 to 8 p.m., Monday, Oct. 19, to learn more about the environmental analysis and provide comments on the draft environmental review. 

Comments as part of the SEPA process can be submitted through Friday, Oct. 23 online at or by mail to Lisa Wood, SEPA/NEPA Coordinator, WDFW Habitat Program, Protection Division, P.O. Box 43200, Olympia, WA 98504.

To view the draft environmental review, best available science report, economic analysis, and instructions for tuning in to the Oct. 19 virtual meeting and providing comments, please visit WDFW’s commercial whale-watching rulemaking webpage at

The public may also sign up to receive email updates about public meetings and comment opportunities when the draft rules are available for comment, expected in October 2020.

WDFW will present a summary of public comments it receives to the Fish and Wildlife Commission, which is scheduled to hear and consider the rules during meetings in December.

Commission meeting times and agendas can be found online at