Washington task force calls for whale-watching boat tour ban

SEATTLE — The Washington state task force on critically endangered Northwest orcas wants to temporarily ban commercial whale-watching boat tours.

The group advising the governor voted Tuesday to recommend a three- to five-year moratorium in order to reduce boating traffic and help orcas hunting for food.

Orcas have hit the lowest numbers in more than three decades, capturing global attention as starvation has caused their deaths. Just 74 animals remain in the area.

Researchers say reducing boat traffic must be the first step to mitigating the problem because white noise makes it difficult for them to find salmon.

Critics say the move doesn't address their dwindling food supply, and that barge and commercial fishing boats are far louder.

The task force previously considered creating a permit system for commercial whale-watching trips.