Lytton Orca Drone Bill Passes House

OLYMPIA – For thousands of Washingtonians with a new drone to try out, the ability to get some up close and personal footage of orca whales is tempting. But, under a bill passed out of the House this week, flying too close to orca whales could result in a fine.

Too often, drone operators lose control of their drone, or fly too close to an animal or structure, and end up causing damage. Orcas are an endangered species and are protected by Washington state and with new technologies, new laws to govern them are necessary to keep orcas safe. Under HB 1031, unmanned aerial systems, or drones, are prohibited from approaching the southern resident orca whale that travels Washington waters.

“Orcas are a state treasure and we must ensure they are protected, even from unintended damage from residents simply looking for good footage. I appreciate our hobbyists, but let’s keep some distance and let our orcas travel safely,” said Lytton.

Current law allows the Department of Fish and Wildlife to fine any vessel within 200 yards of a southern resident orca whale up to $500. HB 1031 includes drones in that definition. The bill was amended to ensure that incidental violations, such as when a drone operator is traveling from point A to point B and happens to fly near orcas, would not be subject to a fine.