Big Wins for Endangered Orcas in Defense Spending Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The federal government will invest in multiple programs to protect endangered whales as part of a massive spending bill approved this week and signed by President Biden. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) includes several provisions that would reduce ship noise and vessel strikes and protect the iconic Southern Resident orcas and other whales. 

“Underwater noise pollution from ships is rampant in the ocean, and it threatens the recovery of critically endangered marine mammals, such as Southern Resident orcas and North Atlantic right whales,” said Regan Nelson, senior oceans advocate for NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “This smart new legislation will invest in reducing vessel noise and put the country on a pathway to building ships that are both carbon-free and quiet.” 

“We deeply appreciate the leadership of Washington State’s Congressional delegation for its amendments to help assure commerce and killer whales can coexist,” said Port of Seattle Commissioner Fred Felleman. “Washington State is rich in marine life, maritime innovation, and ports motivated to incentivize the development of technologies that support the ecology and economy of our region.” 
“The critically endangered Southern Resident orcas depend on sound to find and capture their scarce prey as well as to communicate with each other,” said Nora Nickum, Senior Ocean Policy Manager at the Seattle Aquarium. “Applying measures like these to monitor underwater noise and quiet the waters will contribute to foraging success and improve their chance of recovery.” 
“This legislation fortifies the U.S. Coast Guard’s ability to communicate with boaters and commercial mariners in real time and put more space between orcas and vessels – much like our partners in Canada are doing,” said Todd Hass, Special Assistant to the Director at the Puget Sound Partnership. 
“We are running out of time to save the Southern Resident orcas, which are in crisis due to threats from pollution, noise, and lack of their primary food – salmon,” said Tara Galuska, Washington State’s orca recovery coordinator. “This legislation will support efforts in our state to address these threats and take us a step much closer to ensuring these incredible creatures are around for a long time. We are very grateful to the Washington Congressional delegation for this important legislation that will help quiet our waterways and ultimately help us protect orcas and other important marine animals.” 
“For too long, the shipping industry has flown under the radar when it comes to noise and other pollution streams,” said Marcie Keever, Oceans & Vessels Program Director at Friends of the Earth. “These new measures will give Southern Resident orcas and other marine mammals a better chance of survival in the Pacific Northwest.” 

Specific provisions in the funding package to protect marine mammals include: 

  • A grant program to support ports and initiatives like Washington’s Quiet Sound program that aim to reduce underwater noise pollution from large vessels that share waters with orcas and other sensitive whales.  
  • New technologies that can detect whales in real-time to assist mariners and natural resource managers in taking actions to avoid disturbing or colliding with whales.  
  • A new “Whale Desk” in Puget Sound that will help the Coast Guard communicate with mariners when necessary to help avoid ship strikes and other vessel disturbances of orcas. 
  • Federal government investments in advancing technologies that help quiet ships and other vessels, which contribute the bulk of underwater noise to busy coastal waters.   

For more, here is a blog by Regan Nelson, senior oceans advocate at NRDC. 

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

The Port of Seattle’s mission is to promote economic opportunities and quality of life in the region by advancing trade, travel, commerce, and job creation in an equitable, accountable, and environmentally responsible manner. Port operations help support nearly 200,000 jobs and $7 billion in wages throughout the region. Over the next 15 years, the Port’s Century Agenda seeks to create an additional 100,000 jobs through economic growth while becoming the nation’s leading green and energy-efficient port. Learn more at the Port’s website

The Seattle Aquarium is a nonprofit organization with the mission of Inspiring Conservation of Our Marine Environment. It is the ninth largest aquarium in the U.S. by attendance, hosting more than 27 million visitors and providing marine conservation education to two million school children. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @SeattleAquarium.  

The Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office provides state leadership and funding to protect and improve the best of Washington’s natural and outdoor recreation resources, now and for future generations. The Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office supports coordinated efforts to sustain salmon and orca and their habitats.  

The Puget Sound Partnership is the Washington State agency leading the region’s collective effort to restore and protect Puget Sound. The Puget Sound Partnership brings together hundreds of partners to mobilize partner action around a common agenda, advance Sound investments, and advance priority actions by supporting partners. 

Friends of the Earth fights to create a more healthy and just world. Our current campaigns focus on promoting clean energy and solutions to climate change, ensuring the food we eat and products we use are safe and sustainable, and protecting marine ecosystems and the people who live and work near them. 

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