Be Whale Wise informs you on the laws pertaining to marine mammals, as well as provides additional guidelines that will make you a safer boater and a steward of our natural resources.
The Salish Sea is home to many marine mammals, but most known as the home of the Southern Resident Community of orcas or killer whales (SRKWs). This unique population of orcas feeds on fish, preferably salmon, and lives in close family groups. The Southern Resident orcas are listed as endangered in both Canada and the United States. Only 74 orcas remain as of April 2022. One of the best ways to help these whales is to Be Whale Wise!
What You Need to Know
- Boats to stay 300 yards from Southern Resident killer whales on either side.
- Boats to stay 400 yards out of Southern Resident killer whale’s path/in front and behind the whales
- Boats to go slow (<7 knots) within ½ mile of Southern Resident killer whales
- Disengage engines if whales appear within 300 yards.
Boats should stay 100 yards from all other marine mammals (e.g. humpback whales, gray whales, sea lions and seals).
Learn more about Washington State Regulations & Guidelines
- Vessels must stay 400 metres away from all killer whales in southern BC coastal waters between Campbell River and just north of Ucluelet until May 31, 2024, as per the Interim Order enacted under the Canada Shipping Act. (see map here).
- (Note: In Canada, vessels flying a purple Authorized Vessel “AV” flag are authorized to approach non-Southern Resident killer whales up to 200 metres.)
- Boats must stay 200 metres from all killer whales in other Canadian Pacific waters and from all whales, dolphins or porpoises if they are resting or with a calf.
- Boats must stay 100 metres from all other whales, dolphins and porpoises in Canadian Pacific waters.
- Drones can disturb marine mammals, so are discouraged for viewing marine mammals unless appropriate permits are obtained.
- Area-based fishing closures are in effect for recreational and commercial salmon in key Southern Resident Killer Whale foraging areas in Swiftsure Bank, Strait of Juan de Fuca, southern Gulf Islands and mouth of the Fraser River.
- Vessels must slow down to maximum 10 knots or less in Seasonal Slowdown Areas.
- Turn off fish finders and echo sounders when it is safe to do so.
- Go slow (<7knots) within 1,000 metres, or a half mile, of whales.
- Refrain from fishing, where possible, within 1,000 metres or half mile of whales.
- Don’t get between whales and the shoreline
- Use the Whale Warning Flag to warn fellow boaters to the presence of whales and be aware of the flag when you’re cruising the area.
Click here to learn more best practices when boating around marine life.
Whale Warning Flags Indicate
- Whales are in the vicinity
- Vessels should slow down and be prepared to change course
- Turn off fishfinders and depth sounders
Learn more about the Whale Warning Flag and other flags you might see out on the water.
Get your own flag here for US boaters and here for CAN boaters.
Know the Zones
San Juan Island West Side Voluntary No-Boat Zone
- Extends from Mitchell Point to Cattle Point
- ¼ mile offshore, ½ mile around Lime Kiln Point State Park
Click to DOWNLOAD a map.
Canada Interim Sanctuary Zones
- Saturna Island
- Pender Island
Canadian Seasonal Slowdown Areas
- Swiftsure Bank
Area-Based Salmon Fishing Closures
- Mouth of the Fraser River
- Southern Gulf Islands
- Strait of Juan de Fuca
- Swiftsure Bank
Click on maps for coordinates and closure dates or visit https://www.canada.ca/southern-resident-killer-whales for more information.
Click to DOWNLOAD Canada’s poster.
Click to DOWNLOAD Canada’s Flyer.
Government of Canada announces protection measures for Southern Resident killer whales
Southern Resident killer whales are icons of Canada’s Pacific coast, and culturally significant to Indigenous Peoples and coastal communities in British Columbia. The Government of Canada continues to take strong action to protect and restore their population. For the fifth consecutive year, Canada is implementing measures to protect these whales.
For Immediate Release - San Juan County Boaters Encouraged to 'Be Whale Wise'
June is Orca Action Month, a time to recognize one of the most iconic mammals in our region, the Southern Resident orca. Boaters are encouraged to be a part of the orca recovery and educate themselves on the regulations and guidelines set in place in order to help with the recovery of the Southern Resident orcas.
Canadian Management Measures to Protect Southern Resident Killer Whale
Building on measures taken in 2019 and 2020, the Government of Canada introduced the suite of 2021 management measures. These measures have been put in place to address the primary threats to the Southern Resident killer whales: prey availability and accessibility, acoustic and physical disturbance, and contaminants.
Visit The Whale Museum
Located in beautiful Friday Harbor, Washington, opened to the public in 1979 as the first museum in the country devoted to a species living in the wild.