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Fly That Whale Flag!

by Kate Calamusa
Whale Warning Flag
Photo Courtesy of Jeanne Hyde

The month of August marks one of the busiest times of the year for boating in Puget Sound, and now, more than ever, the San Juan County Environmental Department is urging all boaters to join the effort to keep whales and boaters safe by watching for and using a whale warning flag.

Much like the recognizable “diver down” flag, the flag’s purpose is to alert boaters when there are whales in the area. Commonly seen on whale watch boats and research vessels, private boaters may also display a whale warning flag to alert fellow boaters to whales in the area.

Using the flag is easy: When you spot whales, or other boats grouped together already flying whale warning flags, slow down and take a moment to figure out where the whales are relative to you. Then, put up your whale warning flag to help spread word of the sighting. Keep the flag up while the whales are within a half mile of you, and maintain compliance with whale protection laws and guidelines by doing the following:

  • Slow down to 7 knots or less
  • Turn off fish finders and/or depth sounders
  • Maintain a minimum distance of 300 yards from their sides and 400 yards from their path of travel in either direction
  • Avoid cutting in front or following behind whales if it can be avoided

The waters of Puget Sound are critical habitat for the endangered Southern Resident killer whales, who are highly impacted by vessel disturbances. “Boaters can play a huge role in the recovery of the Southern Residents by doing their part and helping to protect not just these whales but all of our marine wildlife and resources,” explains Alanna Frayne, the Soundwatch & Be Whale Wise Program coordinator at The Whale Museum. “So, keep a sharp lookout!” To obtain a whale warning flag for yourself, or to learn more about the initiative, visit: whaleflag.org.

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