For the fifth year in a row, federal authorities are implementing restrictions to protect southern resident killer whales (SRKW) on the west coast, including a return of salmon fishery closures and the establishment of two interim “sanctuary zones” in the Southern Gulf Islands.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra announced the action alongside a host of measures Wednesday, April 26, intended to help “protect and restore” the critically endangered whales’ population.
Effective immediately, Transport Canada said it is reinstating avoidance distance requirements — and vessels will be required to stay at least 400 metres from all killer whales in Southern British Columbia coastal waters from Campbell River around to Ucluelet, including Barkley and Howe Sound. The measure is in effect until May 31, 2024. If killer whales approach any vessel, boaters are required to put their engine in neutral and wait for the animals to pass.
For 2023, the Southern Gulf Islands fishery closure for commercial and recreational salmon will be in effect from the first confirmed SRKW presence in the area, and extends from now to Nov. 30 — a month later than last year, according to Transport Canada, to recognize that whales are being reported in the Salish Sea in greater numbers later in the fall. Monitoring of the area will begin on May 1.
In addition, starting June 1, two interim sanctuary zones off Pender and Saturna islands will prohibit all vessel traffic until Nov. 30, subject to exceptions for emergency situations and Indigenous vessels. A 20-metre corridor next to the shoreline will allow kayakers and other paddlers to safely transit through these zones, although if a killer whale is in the sanctuary at the time, paddlers must remain 400 metres away from the whales.
The agency also said an agreement had been reached with B.C. whale watching and ecotourism industry partners to “abstain from offering or promoting” tours for viewing southern resident killer whales.
For more information about marine mammal regulations or to report violations, visit bewhalewise.org.