New requirements for boaters will make waters safer for orcas. Photo by Rachael Merrett.

Sharing Waters with the Orcas

New regulations in effect June 1, 2020

New requirements for boaters will make waters safer for orcas. Photo by Rachael Merrett.

Today, there are 72 Southern Resident orcas in the Salish Sea. Their health has deteriorated as their habitat has gotten busier, noisier and more contaminated, impacting their ability to find prey, communicate and survive.

In an effort to protect this unique population, there are some new requirements for boaters that come into effect on June 1, 2020:

  • Approach distances. Boaters are now required to keep a distance of 400 metres from all orcas along the entire southern coast of BC, in waters between Campbell River and Ucluelet, all year round, and 200 metres from all orcas in the rest of Canadian Pacific waters.
  • Fixed area closures. These are mandatory no-go zones for boats around Pender Island, Saturna Island and Swiftsure Bank until November 30, with exemptions for safety; for human-powered vessels that remain within a 20-metre corridor of the shore (and 400 metres away from orcas); and for vessels engaged in Indigenous food, social and ceremonial fisheries. Changes have been made to the shape of these Gulf Island sanctuaries to reduce complexities for understanding and enforcement of these zones, which scientific data shows are high-use foraging areas for Southern Resident orcas.
  • Voluntary measures. Boaters are asked to:
    • Turn off their echo sounders and fish finders when not in use.
    • Put engines in neutral idle if accidentally within the 400-metre approach distance.
    • Reduce their speed to fewer than seven knots, and to stop fishing when within 1 kilometre of all orcas.
  • Click here for a visual overview of this year’s new protection measures.

Additional regulations and recommendations will be announced soon by the federal government, including the timing for fisheries closures and measures to mitigate threats posed by large vessels and contaminant discharge. You can find other tips for safely boating with wildlife at Georgia Strait Alliance.