The federal agency NOAA is asking for your opinion before it decides whether to move forward with a proposal to create a whale protection zone in the waters near San Juan Island.
Motorized boat traffic would be banned from traveling in the zone, which is approximately 10 square miles. The comment period extends for 90 days.
Related: Comment on NOAA's proposal
"What that achieves for the whales is a place of quiet where they can successfully hunt, communicate, and socialize, which is very important for their recovery," said Scott West, executive director of the Orca Relief Citizens Alliance, which filed the petition with NOAA.
There are currently rules requiring boats stay 200 yards away from whales and out of their path.
"This petition is a really big distraction for the real issues facing the southern resident killer whales," said Jeff Friedman, U.S. president of the Pacific Whale Watch Association and owner of Maya's Legacy Whale Watching in Friday Harbor.
"The primary challenge they face in recovery is a lack of food, specifically salmon, Chinook salmon," said Friedman.
West argued that the whale protection zone allows whales to hunt for salmon in waters where they're not disturbed by boat traffic. NOAA cited studies suggesting that whales hunt less effectively when impacted by boats.
"The proposal is insane," said Ken Balcomb, head of the Center for Whale Research on Friday Harbor.
He says the southern residents spend less than 1 percent of their time in the waters that would be the protection zone. But West says he's pleased a process is now in place to allow the public to have a voice.