Government of Canada announces second year of enhanced measures to protect Southern Resident killer whales

News release

May 7, 2020        Vancouver, British Columbia     

The Government of Canada is committed to taking action to support the survival and recovery of the Southern Resident killer whale, an endangered species that has cultural significance for Indigenous peoples and coastal communities in British Columbia (B.C.).

Today, the Minister of Transport, the Honourable Marc Garneau, the Minister of Fisheries Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard, the Honourable Bernadette Jordan, and the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, announced protective measures for this year and beyond.

This year’s measures once again reflect advice from First Nations, the Southern Resident killer whale technical working groups, the Indigenous and Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Group, and from public consultations. The measures focus on the primary threats to Southern Resident killer whales: prey availability and accessibility, acoustic and physical disturbance, and contaminants. Measures include:

  • Protecting access to Chinook salmon with minimal disturbance in key foraging areas. There will again be area-based closures in the Juan de Fuca Strait and Southern Gulf Islands for recreational and commercial salmon fisheries. Specific dates will be announced in June. This year, all fish harvesters will also be asked to voluntarily stop fishing within 1000 metres of killer whales throughout B.C. waters.
  • Creating interim sanctuary zones off Pender Island, Saturna Island and at Swiftsure Bank, which are in effect from June 1 to November 30, 2020. This is an additional month longer than last year. No vessel traffic will be permitted in these areas subject to certain exceptions for emergency and Indigenous vessels.
  • Prohibiting vessels from approaching any killer whale within a 400-metre distance, effective June 1, 2020. Starting this year, this will apply year-round and in BC coastal waters between Campbell River and Ucluelet, which is further north than last year’s measure.
  • Asking all vessels to “go slow” and reduce speed to less than seven knots when within 1000 metres of a whale. Vessels are also asked to turn off echo sounders and fish finders when not needed, and turn engines to neutral idle if a whale is within 400 metres. This will be year-around.
  • Reducing contaminants affecting whales and their prey. Long-term actions focus on enhancing regulatory controls, monitoring and research, sharing information and data, and expanding outreach and education.

Effectively protecting and recovering Southern Resident killer whales requires a long-term, collective effort led by the Government of Canada and other partners. The Minister of Transport will also renew the landmark agreement with the local whale watching and ecotourism industry who have committed to once again not offer or promote tours focused on Southern Resident killer whales. Lastly, Vancouver Fraser Port Authority’s Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) program will again be announcing measures related to large commercial vessels in the coming weeks.


“Thanks to the progress we are making through actions such as the Whales Initiative and Oceans Protection Plan, our coasts and marine species are more protected than ever. I want to thank coastal communities, First Nations, the whale watching industry, and vessel operators for their ongoing collaboration and commitment to help the recovery of the Southern Resident killer whale. The Government of Canada looks forward to continuing this collaborative effort to protect and reduce threats for these iconic whales.”

The Honourable Marc Garneau
Minister of Transport

“The Southern Resident killer whale is facing imminent threats, but working together, we are taking action to change that. In 2018, our government introduced the first set of measures to protect these important whales. Today, we are announcing measures that build on that work informed by the best researchers in this field. I’d like to recognize our partners for their active participation in this process, which is critical to the long-term survival of the Southern Resident killer whale.”

The Honourable Bernadette Jordan
Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

“The Southern Resident killer whale has immense cultural significance for Indigenous Peoples and coastal communities, and is a vital part of our sensitive ecosystems in British Columbia. By safeguarding their main food source and providing them with more space to move and feed, we are helping ensure that this iconic species will thrive in our waters for years to come.”

Terry Beech
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

“Together, we can make a difference in the protection of the iconic and culturally significant Southern Resident killer whale. Stronger controls on contaminants impacting these whales is part of the long-term and sustained effort to help these magnificent animals recover and thrive.”

The Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson
Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Quick facts

  • The $1.5 billion Oceans Protection Plan, the $167.4 million Whales Initiative and a further investment of $61.5 million, all feature initiatives addressing key threats to Southern Resident killer whales.

  • Last year, the Government of Canada signed a five-year agreement with industry partners that are part of the Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation Program, that sees large commercial vessels operating in Southern Resident killer whale critical habitat voluntarily developing and implementing threat reduction measures to support whale recovery.

  • As of April 6, to prevent the spread of COVID-19, all marine passenger vessels with a capacity of more than 12 passengers are prohibited from engaging in non-essential activities, such as tourism or recreation (e.g. day tours, whale watching, or sightseeing). These measures will remain in place until June 30, 2020, at the earliest.

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Livia Belcea
Press Secretary
Office of the Honourable Marc Garneau
Minister of Transport, Ottawa
(613) 991-0700

Media Relations
Transport Canada, Ottawa

Jane Deeks
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

Media Relations
Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Moira Kelly
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Media Relations
Environment and Climate Change Canada
819-938-3338 or 1-844-836-7799 (toll-free)

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