Whale watching industry wins, endangered orca lose.
We are deeply disappointed to announce that the multi-million dollar whale watching industry has shut down our campaign to help the endangered Southern Resident orca receive the protections they need to hunt, forage and communicate in peace. During the hearing, the whale watcher's rights were compared to a butcher's right to sell red meat, a farmer selling strawberries and a miner panning for gold. A corporate industry has co-opted the entire Salish Sea, and turned all of its creatures, including the Southern Residents, into commodities.
Despite thousands of San Juan County residents signing petitions to put the Orca Protection Initiative on the ballot, the people have been stripped of their rights and corporate interests have prevailed. Our county prosecutor argued passionately, alongside the whale watchers, against this people's initiative. San Juan County has a home rule charter, which grants its citizens local initiative power according to the Washington State constitution. SJC prosecuter Randy Gaylord argued that these rights were designated to the County Council (3 men) alone, because only the Council reserves the right to adopt ordinances requiring "police powers of enforcement." The County has allowed other initiatives on the ballot which require police enforcement; it is picking and choosing which initiatives it deems valid. Protecting the endangered orca did not make the cut.
Meanwhile, the Southern Residents have virtually abandoned their home waters over the last few years due to scarce fish and constant vessel harassment. Three more orcas have died, including Tahlequah's mother. After an unprecedented absence, the whales finally returned home a few days ago to seek out salmon and already they are being hounded by masses of boats from dawn to dusk. It is a shameful spectacle.
The Orca Protection Initiative may have been thwarted by corporate greed and San Juan County officials, but our passion and commitment to the whales is as strong as ever. We will continue spreading the word about the impact of vessel noise and pollution on the endangered orca, launch our Watch From Shore campaign, and actively petition the Orca Task Force to resubmit their recommendation to suspend whale watching of the Southern Residents to Governor Inslee. We will also be seeking answers from our elected County Council on why our home rule charter was usurped.
Members of our group have gone into personal debt due to the whale watcher's lawsuit. Any contributions toward legal fees would be greatly appreciated. https://www.crowdpac.com/campaigns/393461/san-juan-county-orca-protection-initiative
Thank you to everyone who has put time, effort and money into this grass roots campaign. We will not rest until the Southern Residents are given the protections they deserve.