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Important measures taken in 2020 to protect Southern Resident killer whales remain in effect

Press Release

From: Transport Canada

December 10, 2020                           Vancouver, BC                                         Transport Canada

The Government of Canada is committed to taking action to support the survival and recovery of the Southern Resident killer whale, an endangered species that has cultural significance for Indigenous peoples and coastal communities in British Columbia (B.C.).

Today, the Minister of Transport, the Honourable Marc Garneau, announced that vessels are still prohibited from approaching any killer whale within a 400 metre distance in B.C. coastal waters between Campbell River and Ucluelet until May 31, 2021. Canada’s Marine Mammal Regulations, which require maintaining  200 metres away from killer whales off the coast of  B.C., continue to apply year-round.

From June 1 to November 30, 2020, three Interim Sanctuary Zones were created where Southern Resident killer whales were safe from boats and where fishing was not permitted. These zones gave the whales space to better socialize and kept the three pregnant females safe from human interactions. Only Indigenous peoples exercising their existing rights, vessels responding to boating emergencies, vessels accessing local residences or establishments, and human-powered vessels (kayaks, paddle boards, etc.) navigating within 20 metres of the shoreline were permitted in these zones. The Government of Canada also took additional action this year through the Whales Initiative to further promote the development of new technologies and quiet vessel designs, and reduce human-made underwater noise. This included deployment of an underwater listening station at Boundary Pass by JASCO Applied Sciences in May.

The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority-led Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program also coordinated three voluntary initiatives to reduce underwater noise from large commercial vessels in known Southern Resident killer whale feeding areas. Voluntary ship slowdowns took place in Haro Strait and Boundary Pass, as well as a new trial area in Swiftsure Bank. Tug operators were also requested to move away from known feeding areas in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Record participation rates of over 80% were documented in all three voluntary initiatives.

Educational work done by the Pacific Whale Watch Association, along with individual whale watchers and eco-tourism operators also contributed to this year’s success. Their commitment to not offering tours – or observations – of Southern Resident killer whales (focusing rather on Bigg’s killer whales, humpback whales and other marine mammals),was an important contribution to recovery efforts. .

The 2020 measures resulted in more than 155 enforcement actions. The limited number of repeat violations reflects a successful educational campaign for boaters during the year. In addition to on-the-water efforts by enforcement officers, virtual outreach and education took place through webinars, online events and social media. Parks Canada’s Outreach Team also reached over 4,800 people through online interpretive programs about Southern Resident killer whales.

Ensuring the survival and recovery of the Southern Resident killer whales can only be done in partnership. The Government of Canada continues to work with private, not for profit, and Indigenous partners in Canada, and with federal officials, state officials and non-government organizations in the United States.


“The Government of Canada remains committed to the long-term survival and recovery of the iconic Southern Resident killer whale population. Working together with Indigenous partners, the whale-watching industry, the marine shipping industry, and by investing in new technology, we have had a successful second year of protective measures and seen the birth of two new calves. We look forward to continued collaboration with our partners to ensure the well-being of these animals, and to reduce threats to their recovery.”

The Honourable Marc Garneau

Minister of Transport

“Our Government continues to take strong action, through increased science investments and mitigation measures, to protect our Southern Resident killer whales. The success of these measures is only possible because of the hard work and cooperation of our many industry partners and coastal First Nations. Through our combined efforts, we will continue to protect this species, and work toward its recovery in the long-term.

The Honourable Bernadette Jordan
Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

Quick facts

  • The 2020 measures reflect advice from First Nations, the Southern Resident killer whale Technical Working Groups, the Indigenous and Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Group, and from public consultations.
  • This year saw the successful birth of two Southern Resident killer whale calves, increasing the population to 74.
  • The $1.5 billion Oceans Protection Plan, the $167.4 million Whales Initiative and a further investment of $61.5 million, specific to Southern Resident killer whales, all support work to address key threats to Southern Resident killer whales.
  • In 2019, the Government of Canada signed a five-year agreement with industry partners that are part of the Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation Program, that sees large commercial vessels operating in Southern Resident killer whale critical habitat voluntarily developing and implementing threat reduction measures to support whale recovery.
  • Parks Canada’s Outreach Team delivers online and in-person educational programs to encourage Canadians to learn about the endangered Southern Resident killer whales and to take actions to help protect this iconic species.

Associated links


Allison St-Jean
Press Secretary
Office of the Honourable Marc Garneau
Minister of Transport, Ottawa
(613) 290-8656
[email protected]

Media Relations
Transport Canada, Ottawa
[email protected]


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