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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.


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