Government of Canada issues Interim Order and signs agreement with whale watching association to further support recovery of Southern Resident killer whales

News release

May 27, 2019                 Vancouver – Transport Canada

The Government of Canada recognizes that Southern Resident killer whales face imminent threats to their survival and recovery – and has implemented additional measures to save these endangered marine mammals.

On May 10, 2019, the Government announced a suite of new measures to be implemented this summer that help address the key threats of lack of prey, and acoustic and physical disturbance. Today, the Government of Canada issued an Interim Order, effective June 1, 2019, to protect whales from vessel disturbance.

The Interim Order will be in place until October 31, 2019.

As of June 1, 2019:

  • All vessels are prohibited from approaching any killer whale within a 400-metre distance. This prohibition applies throughout the Southern Resident killer whale critical habitat.
  • Recognizing their specialized knowledge to identify different species, commercial whale watch 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 to a distance of 200 metres.
  • Vessels are prohibited from entering areas newly designated as Interim Sanctuary Zones. These zones are located at Swiftsure Bank, off the east coast of Saturna Island, and south-west of North Pender Island. Some exemptions are provided for emergency response vessels and Indigenous persons engaged in certain activities.

The population of Southern Resident killer whales is small and declining, with only 75 remaining, and they are exposed to a number of serious threats, including underwater noise and disturbance from vessels. Given the imminent threats whales are facing, the Government is also asking vessel operators to respect the following voluntary measures:

  • Respect a “Go Slow” zone around whales by reducing speed to less than 7 knots when within 1,000 metres of a whale in the Enhanced Management Areas that have been identified through the Gulf Islands, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Mouth of the Fraser River; and
  • Reduce noise by turning echo sounders off when not in use and turning engines to neutral idle when within 400 metres of a whale.

As a sign of leadership, the Pacific Whale Watch Association signed an agreement today demonstrating its commitment to refrain from offering tours on Southern Resident killer whales, as well as taking other stewardship actions. On the basis of the exemption outlined above, the Association’s members will receive authorization from the Minister of Transport allowing them to approach non-Southern Resident killer whales to a distance of 200 metres within Southern Resident killer whale critical habitat. Other whale watch operators and eco-tourism companies willing to undertake similar measures for the protection of Southern Resident killer whales may equally apply for this authorization.

Environmental stewardship is a shared responsibility of all Canadians.  This agreement demonstrates the strong, ongoing commitment and collaboration between industry, environmental groups and the Government of Canada, among others, to support the protection and recovery of endangered Southern Resident killer whales.

Building on the $1.5 billion Oceans Protection Plan, last year the Government of Canada introduced the $167.4 million Whales Initiative to protect and support the recovery of three at-risk whale species: the Southern Resident killer whales; the North Atlantic right whale; and the St. Lawrence Estuary beluga whale. In October 2018, an additional, $61.5 million was dedicated to address threats to the Southern Resident killer whale. These initiatives support the recovery of Canada’s endangered whale populations by addressing the main threats they face: lack of prey, noise and physical disturbance from vessels, vessel strikes, and pollution from land-based sources.


“Today’s agreement furthers our Whales Initiative by putting in place additional protective measures that help in the recovery of the Southern Resident killer whale. Through the support of vessel operators, our coasts and marine species are protected more than ever. I want to thank everyone who has provided their expert advice and support in this collaborative effort.”

The Honourable Marc Garneau
Minister of Transport

“We continue to build on our commitment to protect the Southern Resident killer whales by working collaboratively with industry associations to advance our efforts. We commend the Pacific Whale Watch Association for showing leadership in minimizing vessel noise and reducing the disturbance on this iconic species. "

Terry Beech
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

“For 25 years, PWWA members have supported science-based efforts and research to understand and limit the effect of vessel traffic on killer whales. The realities on our shared waterways include vessels in size from three metres to 300 metres. Today, we alert military, passenger, shipping, and recreational vessels when they are unaware of whales in an area. We remain the quietest vessels on the water, and the sentinels of the sea for whales through our science-based vessel management plan. PWWA members educate passengers and drive conservation efforts with every trip."

Alan McGillivray
Canadian President of the Pacific Whale Watch Association

Quick facts

  • The interim order announced today supports the recovery of Southern Resident killer whales by addressing a key threat to their recovery: noise and physical disturbance from vessels.

  • The Pacific Whale Watch Association is the trans-boundary (Canada and US) industry organization representing commercial whale watching operators in the Salish Sea. The association is comprised of whale watching and ecotourism businesses committed to research, education and responsible wildlife viewing. Member companies operate using best practices for minimizing underwater noise, establishing distance, speed limit and sonar restrictions to protect marine wildlife on the pacific coast.

  • Underwater vessel noise interferes with the ability of the Southern Resident killer whale to undertake vital life functions, including foraging for prey, communicating with other Southern Resident killer whales, and navigating through the use of echolocation.

  • In November 2018, the Government of Canada announced a state of the art hydrophone installation for the Southern Resident killer whale’s critical habitat, at Boundary Pass in the Salish Sea. The station will detect and measure vessel and ambient noise in shipping lanes serving Canada’s busiest port.

  • In January 2019, the Government of Canada implemented changes for obtaining a Pleasure Craft Operator Card. The updated requirements include information pertaining to whale safety, such as: encouraging boaters to use caution in areas where whales may be present; slowing down in the presence of whales; and giving whales plenty of space.

  • In April 2019, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority’s Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation Program, in partnership with Transport Canada, deployed hydrophones in Burrard Inlet.

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Delphine Denis
Press Secretary
Office of the Honourable Marc Garneau
Minister of Transport, Ottawa

Media Relations
Transport Canada, Ottawa

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