Skip to primary navigation Skip to content Skip to footer


Back to

New Distance Guidelines for Whale Watching


Whale watching has become a major tourist attraction in British Columbia. Every year hundreds of thousands of tourists flock to the coast to watch these majestic animals during their migration. However, if we want the next generations to also be able to witness this marvel, conservation needs to be kept at the forefront of everyone’s mind. 

Southern Resident Killer Whale Population 

The Southern Resident Killer Whale habitat extends from southeastern Alaska to central California, with the population swimming past the BC coast on their migration. The population of this group of killer whales has fluctuated between 70 and 99 since 1976 and is currently at 76. The decline in population comes from a number of factors such as:

  • Less food availability
  • Habitat destruction
  • Contaminants
  • Acoustic and physical disturbances

The declining population size is creating increased concern for the future of the populations, their survival and recovery. In order to help facilitate the recovery of the population, the Government of Canada has taken immediate action.


New Guidelines for Whale Watching

On May 10th 2019, new guidelines were announced for the distances ships need to keep from Whales in Canadian waters. The guidelines take effect from June 1st to October 31st 2019 and cover the following:

  • Keep 200 metres away from killer whales in BC and the Pacific Ocean.
  • Keep 400 meters away from killer whales in the Southern Resident Population critical habitat.
  • Vessel operators are asked to turn off their echo sounders and neutralise their engines if safe to do so when a whale is within 400 metres.
  • Exceptions may be authorized by the Minister of Transport for whale watching tour operators and eco-tourism companies that show a commitment to environmental conservation.

Speaking on the issue, the Fisheries and Oceans Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said “We are at a crossroads. The impacts of climate change, combined with habitat loss associated with human activity over the past several decades, has resulted in ecosystem degradation here in Canada and around the world.”


Pacific Whale Watch Association 

The Pacific Whale Watch Association is a non-governmental organisation that conducts research into whales and educates the public to help save vulnerable whale species from extinction. 

Several tour companies in the Vancouver area who are part of the organisation have pledged to refrain from offering tours to see the Southern Resident Killer Whales altogether in an effort to help their population recover. 


The Future of the Southern Resident Killer Whales

The hope is that through further conservation and the impact these new measures will make, the population of Southern Resident Killer Whales will be able to recover. 

The next few years will be crucial in the survival of the population as this year alone, 13 whales have been declared missing and presumed dead. The population normally reaches the Salish Sea by June but this year they have not been spotted. It is thought that the lack of chinook salmon in the area (one of their major food sources) is the cause of their disappearance.  

However, the news is not all doom and gloom. In May of 2019, the population experienced its first successful birth of a calf since 2016. 

Whales are beautiful animals that we hope generations to come will be able to marvel at. To ensure the survival of the population of whales in BC, immediate action needs to be taken and hopefully, with the new measures in place, we will see a recovery in the coming years.


If you are looking to book your spot or group for an upcoming whale watching adventure, be sure to check out our online booking feature which makes booking easy! If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to send us a message or call 604-868-1755.

See you out on the water!

Jesse Finkle