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Know before you go — Vessel flags

Release date: December 2023
PDF: Know before you go — Vessel flags
Description: Know before you go — Vessel flags

Know before you go — Vessel flags

Southern Resident killer whales are listed as Endangered under the Species at Risk Act and have important cultural significance for Indigenous Peoples and coastal communities. They face imminent threats to their survival and recovery. Canada’s laws, regulations and management measures to protect Southern Resident killer whales address these threats.

While out on the water you may see boats flying different flags that indicate which rules to follow.

Authorized Vessel Flag

This flag is used by authorized commercial whale watching and ecotourism companies to view non-Southern Resident killer whales up to 200 metres. If you see a commercial whale watching vessel flying this purple AV Flag, it signals that they have the expertise to identify different populations of killer whales and are authorized to be closer than other vessels to non-Southern Resident killer whales. All other vessels must maintain a distance of 400 metres from all killer whales in southern B.C. coastal waters between Campbell River and just north of Ucluelet as per the Interim Order enacted under the Canada Shipping Act.

Photo: Authorized Vessel Flag

Whale Warning Flag

The Whale Warning Flag is raised by vessels when whales are within 1 km. By raising the flag, transiting vessels are alerted to the presence of whales and should adjust their vessel’s course and speed in accordance with the Marine Mammal Regulations and best practices as laid out in the Be Whale Wise guidelines. For the flag to be effective, it is important to lower it when whales are not present.

Photo: Whale Warning Flag

Photo credit: Marine Education and Research Society

Marine Research Flag

This flag indicates that research is being conducted under a Marine Mammal License (MML) approved by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). There are specific conditions, responsibilities and reporting requirements associated with each license. If a vessel has this flag please stay away, as the research may involve approaching marine mammals closer than the minimum approach distance.

Photo: Marine Research Flag

Laws and regulations

For more information on the Southern Resident Killer Whale protection measures.

Report any incidents concerning marine mammals to DFO 1-800-465-4336, Coast Guard on VHF Channel-16, or DFO.ORR-ONS.MPO@dfo-mpo.gc.ca.

Canada’s Marine Mammal Regulations.

Get your own flag.

Anyone in contravention of the Interim Order management measures, Marine Mammal Regulations, and Fishery Closures can be charged with an offence under the Canada Shipping Act and the Fisheries Act.

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