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The Salish Sea is a transboundary region over seen by Canada, the United States and Washington State. Here is a broad look at the regulations regarding operating vessels around killer whales, specifically Southern Resident killer whales or orcas.

Additionally, all marine mammals are protected in Canada and the United States. Humans and vessels are required to stay 100 metres/yards away from all other marine mammals.

100 metres/yards no approach zone for all other marine mammals in US and Canada; and keeping 200 metres away from whales, dolphins, or porpoises if they are resting or with their calf.
100 metres/yards no approach zone for all other marine mammals in US and Canada; and keeping 200 metres away from whales, dolphins, or porpoises if they are resting or with their calf.

United States Regulations

In 2019, Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee signed into law new regulations governing whale watching in the State of Washington.

U.S. regulations require vessels to stay at least 300 yards away on either side of a Southern Resident Killer Whale’s path and 400 yards out of the path, in front and behind the orcas. Is an orca whale approaches your vessel within 300 yards, you must disengage your vessel’s transmission and allow the whale to pass safely.

See RCW 77.15.740 for more information.

Canadian Regulations

Southern Resident Killer Whales

In Canada, Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) are listed as Endangered under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) and managed under the Marine Mammal Regulations. In May 2019, the Government of Canada announced a number of additional protection measures for the Southern Residents, including a range of mandatory and voluntary measures designed to support prey availability and reduce physical and acoustic disturbance within SRKW critical habitat (Figure 5). Key management actions for 2019 (in effect until October 31, 2019) include:

Mandatory measures:

  • Increasing distance between vessels and SRKW—maintaining a minimum approach distance of 400 metres from all killer whales
  • Commercial and recreational salmon fisheries closures in key SRKW foraging areas; and
  • Prohibition of general vessel traffic (with exemptions) from entering three Interim Sanctuary Zones located at Swiftsure Bank, off the east coast of Saturna Island, and south-west of North Pender Island

Voluntary measures:

  • Vessel speed reductions to less than 7 knots when within 1,000 metres of orcas in the Enhanced Management Areas of SRKW critical habitat (Gulf Islands, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Mouth of the Fraser River; and
  • Turning echo sounders off when not in use and turning engines to neutral idle when within 400 metres of an orca
  • Fishery avoidance zone for recreational and commercial harvesters (where possible) within 1,000 metres of orcas to temporarily suspend fishing activity

To learn more about Transport Canada’s Interim Order (detailed information/maps) visit: http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/mediaroom/interim-order-protection-killer-whales-waters-southern-british-columbia.html

To learn more about all of the 2019 management measures visit: https://dfo-mpo.gc.ca/campaign-campagne/protectingwhales-protegerbaleines/index-eng.html

Marine Mammal Regulations

In addition, the Canadian Marine Mammal Regulations were amended in 2018. Current regulations to avoid disturbance to marine mammals include:

  • Maintain a minimum approach distance of 200 metres to orcas in Pacific Canadian waters, and to any whales, dolphins or porpoises that are in resting position or accompanied by calves
  • Maintain a minimum approach distance of 100 metres to all other marine mammals
  • Do not approach a marine mammal to feed it, swim/interact with it, move it or entice it to move from its immediate vicinity, separate it from members of its group, or trap it between a vessel and the shore or between a vessel and one or more other vessels

The Marine Mammal Regulations also require reporting of any accidental contact between marine mammals and vessels or fishing gear to DFO (1-800-465-4336).

To learn more about the Marine Mammal Regulations visit: http://www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p2/2018/2018-07-11/html/sor-dors126-eng.html

The Marine Education & Research Society (MERS) of Canada has created a campaign to provide further information about how to avoid collisions with marine mammals, called See A Blow? Go Slow! This reminds you that when you’re out on the water and see a blow from a marine mammal, you should slow down and stay extra vigilant to see what direction the animals are traveling and how you can best position your vessel to maintain a safe distance from the whales and still enjoy the view.

To find out more, visit https://mersociety.org/seeablowgoslow.