New Distance Guidelines for Whale Watching

July 10, 2019

The future of the 76-member Southern Resident Killer Whale population has been imperiled by a number of factors including lack of food availability due to habitat destruction and intense commercial fishing. Unlike Bigg’s (transient) Killer Whales, which hunt and eat other mammals such as Seals, Porpoises and Dolphins etc., the Southern Residents are dependent on chinook salmon as their primary food source. A number of other contributory factors have been identified as major threats to these mammals such as noise pollution, chemical pollution and vessel disturbance which can interfere with their ability to communicate and hunt for prey through echolocation. 

With increased concerns for this struggling population, the Government of Canada has recognized that the Southern Resident Killer Whales face imminent threats to their survival and recovery, with immediate action required.  

New Measures 

On May 10th, the Government announced a suite of new measures to address the known threats to this killer whale population. From June 1st, 2019, until October 31st, 2019, the following orders are in effect:

  • All vessels are prohibited from approaching killer whales from a distance of 400 metres
  • Commercial whale watching operators and eco tourism companies that demonstrate a commitment to environmental conservation may apply for authorization from the Minister of Transport to approach non-Southern Resident Killer Whales from a distance of 200 metres
  • Vessels are prohibited from entering Interim Sanctuary Zones, which are located at Swiftsure Bank, off the east coast of Saturna Island, and the south-west of North Pender Island. 

The Government has also requested vessel operators to respect voluntary measures which include:

  • Reducing speed to less than 7 knots when within 1,000 metres of a whale in the Enhanced Management Areas within the Gulf Islands, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Mouth of the Fraser River
  • Reducing noise by turning echo sounders off when not in use and turning engines to neutral when within 400 metres of a whale

Speaking about these new measures, Minister of Transport Marc Garneau noted “Through the support of vessel operators, our coasts and marine species are protected more than ever’’.

Pacific Whale Watch Association Agreement 

Working with the Government, the Pacific Whale Watch Association has signed an agreement to refrain from offering tours that watch the Southern Resident Killer Whales. Adhering to these measures will allow whale watching companies to request authorization from the Minister of Transport to approach non-Southern Resident Killer whales from a distance of 200 metres. 

 ‘’PWWA members have supported science-based efforts and research to understand and limit the effect of vessel traffic on killer whales. We remain the quietest vessels on the water and the sentinels of the sea for whales through our science-based vessel management plan.’’ said Founder of Prince of Whales Whale & Marine Wildlife Adventures and President of the Pacific Whale Watch Association Alan McGillivray. 

The Launch of the Salish Sea Eclipse  

At Prince of Whales Whale & Marine Wildlife Adventures, we are motivated by our sense of responsibility for where we live and the wildlife we encounter on every tour. We’re protective of our marine family and have a strong moral conscience to do everything we can to ensure these mammals are able to enjoy the place that they call home. 

To reduce our environmental footprint, we have been transitioning to larger 95-passenger catamarans which reduces our overall acoustic footprint. Earlier in May,  we were very proud to launch our brand new catamaran – the Salish Sea Eclipse. Our new environmentally-friendly, custom-built catamaran offers more comfortable eco-adventures while ensuring passengers have the best possible viewing experience with its top platform. The catamaran also boasts a jet propulsion system that increases overall speed, decreases noise, reduces food consumption and improves wildlife safety. 

In conjunction with the announcement of the new distance guidelines issued on May 10th, we were fortunate to receive a visit from Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Transport Terry Beech who was given a tour of the Salish Sea Eclipse by our Vancouver crew members. Commenting on the new measures, he said “We continue to build on our commitment to protect the Southern Resident Killer Whales by working collaboratively with industry associations to advance our efforts’’. Everyone here at Prince of Whales Whale & Marine Wildlife Adventures truly hopes these efforts will help to protect the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale population.

So far this year, we have seen this population add two new members. Earlier this year, L pod gave birth to a healthy calf L124 or ‘’Lucky’’ while on May 30th, a new calf was also added to J Pod. We can’t wait to catch a glimpse of these new members soon. The future looks hopeful!

Check out our other whale and marine wildlife conservation initiatives here