Management measures to protect Southern Resident killer whales
Southern Resident killer whales have important cultural significance for Indigenous Peoples and coastal communities in British Columbia. These iconic animals face imminent threats to their survival and recovery. Protecting them requires comprehensive and immediate action.
The 3 primary threats to Southern Resident killer whales are:
- reduced prey availability and accessibility
- acoustic and physical disturbance
Canada has laws and regulations in place to address these threats and support the survival of this species, and there are voluntary measures that you can take as well. Effectively ensuring the protection and recovery of Southern Resident killer whales requires a long-term, collective effort. These measures reflect current science, and advice from First Nations, Stakeholders, Indigenous Multi-Nation Advisory Group, the Southern Resident killer whale Technical Working Groups, the Indigenous and Multi-stakeholder Advisory Group, and from public consultations.
You must follow Canada’s laws and regulations to protect Southern Resident killer whales.
Maps of management measures
Maps show an overview of measures by geographic area. Additional details explaining the measures follow.
Area-based fishing closures
Chinook salmon are a vital source of food for Southern Resident killer whales but wild chinook have declined dramatically in recent years. Fisheries management measures aim to help increase the availability of salmon in key Southern Resident killer whale feeding areas.
The following areas will be closed to salmon fishing by both commercial and recreational harvesters.
- Following the expiry of chinook non-retention measures until October 31 around Swiftsure Bank (closure start date to be communicated in June)
- Following the expiry of chinook non-retention measures until October 31 in parts of the Juan de Fuca Strait (closure start date to be communicated in June)
- from August 1 to September 30 in the mouth of the Fraser River
- from June 3 to November 30 in the southern Gulf Islands
Fishing closures are in effect for recreational and commercial salmon harvesters in the Southern Gulf Islands. These closures started when Southern Resident killer whales were first confirmed to be in the area, and will be in place until November 30.
The area surrounding Southern Gulf Islands is monitored for Southern Resident killer whale presence by DFO’s Whale Tracking Network and the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority Enhancing Cetacean and Observation (ECHO) Program, working closely with its local partners. Once Southern Resident killer whales are confirmed to be in the area, their presence will trigger the implementation of salmon fishing closures which will be in place until November 30.
Fishers are also asked to voluntarily stop fishing (do not haul gear) within 1000m of killer whales as a best practice in the presence of killer whales to reduce competition for their food and to minimize disturbing the animals.
Interim Sanctuary Zones
Interim Sanctuary Zones are in effect from June 1 to November 30 in key portions of Southern Resident killer whale foraging areas to further reduce acoustic and physical disturbance from vessels.
Vessel traffic (including fishing) will be prohibited in Zones off North Pender and Saturna Islands as per the Interim Order enacted under the Canada Shipping Act. Some exceptions will apply, including vessels involved in Indigenous fishing for food, social or ceremonial purposes and vessels involved in emergency response.
Speed Restricted Zones
From June 1 until November 30, all vessels are required to slow down to a maximum of 10 knots around Swiftsure Bank:
- In a portion of Subarea 121-1
- In portions of Subareas 121-1, 121-2 and 21-0: near the mouth of the Nitinat River from Carmanah Point to Longitude 125 degrees west
Some limited exceptions may apply. This measure is mandatory and separate from the voluntary slowdowns coordinated by the ECHO Program.
Vessels must stay 400m 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.
The Marine Mammal Regulations are in effect year-round. This requires staying:
- 200 metres away from all killer whales in Canadian Pacific waters other than those described above
- 200 metres away from all whales, porpoises and dolphins when in resting position or with a calf
- 100 metres for other whales, porpoises and dolphins
Voluntary actions to support Southern Resident killer whales
As well as following Canada’s laws and regulations, there are also voluntary measures that you can take to support the survival of Southern Resident killer whales anytime you’re on or near the water.
- Stop fishing (do not haul gear) within 1000m of killer whales
- Reduce speed to less than 7 knots when within 1000m of the nearest killer whale
- When safe to do so, turn off echo sounders and fish finders
- If you are too close to a whale, place engine in neutral idle and allow animals to pass.
- For more information on the best ways to help whales while on the water, on both sides of the border, please visit bewhalewise.org
Stay up-to-date on the Government of Canada’s actions to protect Southern Resident killer whales by signing up to receive Parks Canada’s e-bulletin.
The Government of Canada continues to address the threat of contaminants by strengthening regulations, developing guidelines, and increasing research and monitoring. As part of our effort to share information and data the Pollutants Affecting Whales and their Prey Inventory Tool (PAWPIT), an interactive mapping tool, is available. The tool shows estimates of pollutant releases by all identified sources within the habitats of Northern and Southern Resident killer whales and chinook salmon. The tool also displays estimated ambient contaminant loads in the Fraser River Basin, and indicates where environmental quality guidelines were exceeded.
- Watching marine wildlife
- Parks Canada: Southern Resident killer whale outreach
- Reducing the threat of contaminants to Southern Resident killer whales
- Reports, publications and videos related to the protection of Southern Resident killer whales
- Interim Order for the Protection of the Killer Whale (Orcinus orca) in the Waters of Southern British Columbia, 2022
- Summary of input provided on management measures to address key threats to Southern Resident killer whales
- Government of Canada announces protection measures for Southern Resident killer whales
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