Once, hundreds of killer whales swam the waters of Puget Sound, but now there are fewer than ninety. 

Scientists say many of those are dying.

In November, a Q13 FOX News investigation revealed the danger southern resident killer whales are facing from relentless pursuit by whale watch boats every summer.  The National Marine Fisheries Service promised tougher laws to keep vessels away from the orcas but to date nothing has changed, at least not here in the US.

“With the decrease in food, the increase in boats which means noise pollution, there is nothing but a trend down," says independent scientist Birgit Kriete.

Research shows noise from boat engines interferes with the whales’ ability to communicate with one another and hunt for a dwindling supply of Chinook salmon, their primary food source.

“Boat noise can impair sonar and affects their communication, so I think that's enough evidence to take a precautionary approach and give them a zone where there's less boat traffic," says UW Center for Conservation Biology researcher Katherine Ayres.

Last week the National Marine Fisheries Service sent its recommendations for keeping water traffic, including whale watch boats, twice as far from the Orcas as is allowed under current law.  They've also asked for a half-mile "no-go zone" along the entire west side of San Juan Island during whale watch season.  Those changes were first proposed two years ago, but even as research linking boat noise to the orca's shrinking numbers continues to pile up, the government has taken no action.

“Part of why it’s taking so long is we wanted to involve the public.  We hoped to have these regulations in place a year ago, but one of the reasons it's taken so long is we extended the public hearing period," says Brian Gorman with the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Gorman says the Department of Commerce is now reviewing the plan.  Then it goes to the Office of Management and Budget for approval before local fisheries officials get final word.

"I expect it's something that will have to go through a lot of hoops.  It could take as long as 90 days but by this spring we should have regulations in place," says Gorman.

While we are still waiting for an announcement, there has been significant action in Canada.  Nine environmental groups there sued the federal government and won for not doing enough to protect the Orcas.

“The court basically said you've got laws, you're not using them effectively and you're not using them appropriately," says Christianne Wilhelmson with the Georgia Strait Alliance. 

Wilhelmson says this means the Canadian government must take action to improve Orca habitat, including decreasing engine noise.

“If the government follows through with that, it means seven years after this species has been declared endangered, we could sit down and start to make changes and deal with the noise issue pollution of our waters," says Wilhelmson.

Canadian officials have already appealed that ruling and activists on both sides of the border are worried red tape and bureaucratic delays could prove deadly to more of our endangered orcas.

"It's another season where we're allowing more stress to be put on these animals.  You have to start asking how much more they can take?  If you ask anyone, a politician anybody about the Orca they would say they're wonderful and beautiful and magnificent.  Why is it we can't turn that into action?" asks Wilhelmson.

We've requested an interview with Senator Maria Cantwell, chair of the committee which oversees this issue, to discuss her commitment to protecting the orcas.  We hope to have that for you when she returns to Washington later this month.