Clean Marine BC

Boater regulations for Southern Resident orcas

Image: Miles Ritter

Southern resident orcas (or killer whales) are an endangered species. In June 2024, the population numbered only 74 individuals.

It is the law to keep 400 metres away from all orcas

This law (with some exceptions) includes southern BC coastal waters from Campbell River to Ucluelet year-round (the orange areas on the map below).

It is also mandatory to be 200 metres away from all orcas in all other areas of Canadian Pacific waters all year-round.

Interim Sanctuary Zones – Effective between June 1 to November 30:

  • No fishing or boating within Saturna Island and Pender Island Interim Sanctuary Zones. There are exceptions for emergency situations, and Indigenous fishing for food, social or ceremonial purposes.
  • To ensure the safety of those operating human-powered vessels, a 20-metre corridor next to shore allows kayakers and other paddlers to transit through these zones. If orcas are in the sanctuary at the time, paddlers must remain 400 metres away from the whales.
  • There are two Seasonal Slow Down Areas at Swiftsure Bank limiting vessel speed to 10 knots.

There are also area-based fishery closures with various effective dates.

The following areas will be closed to salmon fishing by both commercial and recreational harvesters.

Fishers are also asked to voluntarily stop fishing (do not haul gear) within 1000m of killer whales in all Canadian Pacific waters as a best practice in the presence of killer whales to reduce competition for their food and to minimize disturbing the animals. Always be aware of current fishing regulations when harvesting seafood. See the map below for more information.

Voluntary management measures:

  • New 2024 Speed Reduction Zone is being implemented in Tumbo Channel. Vessels should reduce speed to no more than 10 knots in this area, when safe to do so.
  • Within 1000 metres of orcas, you are encouraged to:
    • Stop fishing (Voluntary Fishing Avoidance Zone).
    • Slow down to 7 knots or less.
  • Turn off echosounders and fish finders when not in use.
  • Place engine in neutral idle and allow animals to pass if your vessel is not in compliance with the approach distance regulations.
  • Be whale wise and know the rules on both sides of the border.

A map of the Salish Sea and details of the 2024 Southern Resident Killer Whale protection measures for boaters

The Government of Canada’s “Overview of 2024 management measures to protect Southern Resident Killer Whales” can be download and includes a map of all the areas and interim sanctuary zones that are referred to on this page. Additional information, including maps of interim sanctuary zones, seasonal slow-down areas, area-based fishery closures, and more can be found on the Government of Canada website.

You can also take the pledge to Give Them Space, and go beyond the legal requirements to protect Southern Resident Killer Whales!