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Government of Canada announces protection measures for Southern Resident killer whales

Press Release

From: Transport Canada

April 26, 2023

Southern Resident killer whales are icons of Canada’s Pacific coast, and culturally significant to Indigenous Peoples and coastal communities in British Columbia. The Government of Canada continues to take strong action to protect and restore their population. For the fifth consecutive year, Canada is implementing measures to protect these whales.

Today, the Minister of Transport, the Honourable Omar Alghabra, the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, the Honourable Joyce Murray, and the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, the Honourable Steven Guilbeault, announced measures to protect Southern Resident killer whales on the west coast.

The 2023 measures include:

  • Two mandatory Speed Restricted Zones near Swiftsure Bank, in which all vessels will be restricted to a maximum speed of 10 knots, effective June 1 to November 30, 2023. This measure was first co-developed with Pacheedaht First Nation and incorporates the latest scientific advice about habitat use.
  • The requirement for vessels to stay at least 400 m away from all killer whales in Southern British Columbia coastal waters between Campbell River and Ucluelet, including Barkley and Howe Sound. This is now in effect until May 31, 2024. If killer whales approach any vessel, boaters should put their engine in neutral and wait for the animals to pass.
  • An agreement with local whale watching and ecotourism industry partners to abstain from offering or promoting tours viewing Southern Resident killer whales.
  • Two interim sanctuary zones off Pender Island and Saturna Island from June 1 to November 30, 2023. No vessel traffic will be permitted in these areas during this period, subject to certain exceptions for emergency situations and Indigenous vessels.
  • For the 2023 season, Transport Canada is reinstating the avoidance distance requirements.
  • Fishery closures for commercial and recreational salmon fisheries for the Southern Gulf Islands, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Mouth of the Fraser River areas in 2023. The closures will be expanded around Swiftsure Bank this year to support further protection for the whales. These actions will help protect the whales’ access to salmon and minimize disturbance in their key foraging areas. Adjustments to the fishing closures are based on the best available information regarding whale presence, their foraging areas and impacts of vessel disturbance.
  • New for 2023, the Southern Gulf Islands closure protocol for commercial and recreational salmon fisheries will be in effect from the first confirmed presence of Southern Resident killer whales in the area and extend to November 30, 2023. This effort recognizes that Southern Resident killer whales are being reported in the Salish Sea in greater numbers later into the fall.
  • Continuing to help reduce contaminants in the environment affecting whales and their prey. Long-term actions focus on enhancing regulatory controls, monitoring and research, sharing information and data, and expanding outreach and education. Recent progress includes updates to the online Pollutants Affecting Whales and their Prey Inventory Tool, proposed amendments to the Prohibition of Certain Toxic Substances Regulations, 2012 and development of environmental quality guidelines.
  • The Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program will coordinate voluntary underwater noise reduction initiatives encouraging ship operators to slow down or stay distanced while traveling through key areas of Southern Resident killer whale critical habitat in Haro Strait, Boundary Pass, Swiftsure Bank, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. In 2022, these initiatives reduced underwater sound intensity by approximately 50% in key foraging areas for Southern Resident killer whales.
  • The Government of Canada has been conducting further analysis on advancing protections for killer whales in British Columbia in the context of feedback received and in relation to the Marine Mammal Regulations. In the coming year, DFO will be launching a consultation process to consider adjustments to approach distances for killer whales on the Pacific coast under the Marine Mammal Regulations of the Fisheries Act. Any potential changes to the Marine Mammal Regulations will be based on partner and stakeholder feedback to date, as part of the consultation process to come as well as scientific advice.

The effective protection and recovery of the Southern Resident killer whale requires long-term, collective commitment from the Government of Canada and other partners. The federal government will continue to work with partners, stakeholders, and marine and tourism industry to further our efforts to help protect Southern Resident killer whales and help their population recover.


“It is imperative that we continue our efforts to ensure a quieter, safer environment for this iconic, vulnerable species. That’s why, for the fifth straight year, we are putting in place protective measures to help protect Southern Resident killer whales. Our Government continues to take concrete action to help protect our vulnerable and endangered marine mammal species.”

The Honourable Omar Alghabra
Minister of Transport

“The oceans are home to amazing wildlife, like Southern Resident killer whales, which are not only a symbol of the Pacific coast of Canada but also have cultural significance for coastal communities and Indigenous Peoples. The measures we are implementing in 2023 demonstrate Canada’s commitment to protect these remarkable marine mammals and preserve their cultural and ecological significance.”

The Honourable Joyce Murray
Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

“We continue our work to identify and evaluate sources of contaminants in the environment affecting whales directly or through their prey. The recent updates to our Pollutants Affecting Whales and their Prey Inventory Tool will help us model impacts of additional mitigation measures and controls. These are necessary in our long-term and sustained effort to protect the iconic and culturally significant Southern Resident killer whale.”

The Honourable Steven Guilbeault
Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada

Quick facts

  • The ECHO Program is a world-leading, first-of-its-kind program led by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority to better understand and reduce the cumulative effects of commercial shipping on at-risk whales, with a particular focus on reducing underwater noise from ships –– one of the key threats to at-risk whales identified by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Since 2014, the program has brought together advisors from across the marine transportation industry, government, Indigenous communities, and environmental groups to develop and implement measures to protect at-risk whales.
  • In 2019, the Government of Canada signed a five-year Species at Risk Act Conservation Agreement with the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority and industry partners, which formalizes the role of the ECHO Program and partners in developing and implementing voluntary threat reduction measures to support the endangered Southern Resident killer whales.
  • Canada’s Oceans Protection Plan, Whales Initiative, and an additional federal investment of $61.5 million are supporting the survival and recovery of Southern Resident killer whales, North Atlantic right whales, and St. Lawrence Estuary belugas by implementing protection measures, increasing research, and monitoring activities and taking action to address key threats.

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Associated links


Nadine Ramadan
Press Secretary
Office of the Honourable Omar Alghabra, Minister of Transport, Ottawa
[email protected]

Media Relations
Transport Canada, Ottawa
[email protected]

Kaitlin Power
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and the Minister responsible for Parks Canada
[email protected]

Media Relations
Environment and Climate Change Canada
819-938-3338 or 1-844-836-7799 (toll-free)
[email protected]

Matthew Dillon
Director of Communications
Office of the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard
[email protected]

Media Relations
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
[email protected]


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