Trans-boundary Guidelines for the United States and Canada

Apply to all whales, porpoises, dolphins, seals, sea lions, any animal hauled out and nesting birds.

  1. DO NOT APPROACH or position your vessel closer than 200 metres/yards to any killer whale in the U.S. DO NOT APPROACH or get closer than 100 metres/yards to any other marine mammals or birds, whether on the water or on land.
  2. BE CAUTIOUS, COURTEOUS and QUIET when around areas of known or suspected marine wildlife activity, in the water or at haul-outs and bird colonies on land. Especially from May to September during breeding, nesting and seal pupping seasons.
  3. LOOK in all directions before planning your approach or departure from viewing wildlife.
  4. SLOW DOWN: reduce speed to less than 7 knots when within 400 metres/yards of the nearest marine mammal and reduce your engine’s noise and vessel’s wake.
  5. ALWAYS approach and depart from the side, moving parallel to their direction of the animal’s travel. If the animal(s) are approaching you, cautiously move out of the way and avoid abrupt course changes. DO NOT approach from the front or from behind.
  6. IF your vessel is not in compliance with the 100 metres/yards approach guideline (#1), place engine in neutral and allow animals to pass.
  7. PAY ATTENTION and move away, slowly and cautiously at the first sign of disturbance or agitation from any animal.
  8. STAY on the OFFSHORE side of the whales when traveling close to shore.
  9. ALWAYS avoid going through groups of porpoises or dolphins and hold course and reduce speed gradually to discourage bow or stern-riding.
  10. LIMIT your viewing time to 30 minutes or less. This will reduce the cumulative impact of all vessels and give consideration to other viewers.
  11. DO NOT disturb, swim with, move, feed or touch any marine wildlife. If you are concerned about a potentially sick, stranded animal, or entangled animal, contact your local stranding network.

Why Do We Need Guidelines

The diversity and complexity of marine life in the coastal waters off British Columbia and Washington is truly extraordinary.

It is a fragile world. Pollution, global climate change and other impacts are taking their toll at all levels of the coastal food web. Many species of marine wildlife, such as the endangered Southern Resident killer whales, are showing signs of vulnerability.

Meanwhile, vessel traffic in our waters is steadily increasing, placing added pressures on marine animals and their habitats.

What Is A Disturbance?

Disturbance is when we interfere with an animal’s ability to hunt, feed, communicate, socialize, rest, breed, or care for its young. These are critical processes, necessary for healthy marine wildlife populations.

Whale Warning Flag

The Whale Warning Flag was first introduced around Northern Vancouver Island by the North Island Marine Mammal Stewardship Association (NIMMSA) as a means of addressing the growing number of negative interactions between vessels and humpback whales. By using the same flag design we are collectively promoting and strengthening a consistent message of Whale Wise boating behavior throughout the transboundary waters of the Salish Sea.

If You Have A Flag:

  1. When you encounter whales within 0.65 miles (1 km) of your vessel raise the flag.
  2. Slow down to 7 knots or less.
  3. Follow the regulations and Be Whale Wise Guidelines
  4. Turn off fish finders and/or depth sounders

If You See A Flag:

  1. Whales are within the vicinity of the boat or land station flying the flag.
  2. Slow down to 7 knots or less.
  3. Follow the regulations and Be Whale Wise Guidelines
  4. Turn off Fish Finders and/or depth sounders
  5. Observe the direction of travel of the whales and other vessels to determine the proper way to approach or depart the area

If you would like a flag for your vessel email,

To find out more visit,

Killer Whales:

*Killer whales have special protection in Canadian and U.S. waters.  Be sure to educate yourself about new protections, including regulations with specific distances and recommendations for viewing killer whales.

The Laws

Regulations in Canada and the U.S. prohibit the harassment and disturbance of marine mammals. Many species are threatened or endangered and subject to additional protections under the Endangered Species Act (U.S.) and the Species at Risk Act (Canada).

Endangered Species Act
Marine Mammal Protection Act
Species At Risk Act

Seals, Sea Lions And Birds On Land

  1. BE CAUTIOUS AND QUIET when around haul-outs and bird colonies, especially during breeding, nesting and pupping seasons (generally May to September).
  2. REDUCE SPEED, minimize wake, wash and noise, and then slowly pass without stopping.
  3. AVOID approaching closer than 100 metres/yards to any marine mammals or birds.
  4. PAY ATTENTION and move away, slowly and cautiously, at the first sign of disturbance or agitation.
  5. DO NOT disturb, move, feed or touch any marine wildlife, including seal pups. If you are concerned about a potentially sick or stranded animal, contact your local stranding network where available.


It is illegal to harm or disturb wildlife. To prevent disturbances from an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV/drone) over the marine environment operators must use extreme caution. UAV/drones may cause a disturbance to the animal. Fly during daylight hours, keep your drone in sight and limit your viewing time to reduce the cumulative impact. This is a rapidly evolving technology… Know and follow all local regulations.

Marine Protected Areas, Wildlife Refuges, Ecological Reserves And Parks

  1. CHECK your nautical charts for the location of various protected areas.
  2. ABIDE by posted restrictions or contact a local authority for further information.

We need to minimize our impact.

These guidelines are designed to help you enjoy your wildlife encounter, and reduce the risk of disturbing marine wildlife.

You can also help whales, and other wildlife, by basic environmentally friendly practices, such as reducing your carbon footprint by driving less, taking public transport, or exploring alternative energy. You can also help by learning about your local ecosystem and watershed. Like do you know where your storm water goes? It might flow straight into Puget Sound, so you don’t want to pour hazardous things down the drain, such as soaps, oils, paint, and fertilizers. You can also learn about positive water management and rain gardens.

For more information visit,

Soundwatch Boater Education Program

Disturbance is when we interfere with an animal’s ability to hunt, feed, communicate, socialize, rest, breed, or care for its young. These are critical processes, necessary for healthy marine wildlife populations.

Soundwatch was created by The Whale Museum in 1993 to mitigate vessel risk away from orca whales and other marine wildlife in the Salish Sea through education, research and monitoring. Soundwatch does this through educating boaters before they leave the dock, then reinforcing the learning on the water. Soundwatch crew and volunteers are on the water everyday during the summer around whales educating vessels on what they are looking at and what the guidelines are pertaining to the whales. Soundwatch also collects valuable data on vessel and whale behavior that helps inform managers and other researchers on best practices.

If you are approached by Soundwatch it doesn’t always mean you’ve done something wrong. We like to talk to everybody and just answer any questions you may have. We know that private vessel don’t carry a naturalist on board, so if you have answer questions about what you’re seeing on the water let us know.

To find out more about Soundwatch, read our research reports, or learn how to volunteer please visit,


Download the Be Whale Wise Poster
Download the Be Whale Wise Brochure