Canada strengthens protections for marine mammals with updated regulations for whale watching and approaching marine mammals
Posted on: July 11, 2018 7:13 am
Ottawa, Ontario – Watching whales and other marine mammals in their natural surroundings gives Canadians an opportunity to better appreciate these beautiful animals, but when humans get too close to wildlife in their habitat, we risk disturbing and even harming marine wildlife.
Today, the Honourable Dominic LeBlanc, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, announced that amendments to the Marine Mammal Regulations were published in the Canada Gazette, Part II.
The new rules for whale watching and approaching marine mammals, which are now in effect, will provide a minimum approach distance of 100 metres for most whales, dolphins and porpoises to legally protect these animals from human disturbances.
The required distance requirement will be greater for certain marine mammals, including killer whales in B.C. and the St. Lawrence Estuary Beluga in Quebec, because of the threats they already face or because of local geography. These variations include:
- 200 m for all killer whale populations in B.C. and the Pacific Ocean;
- 200 m for all whales, dolphins and porpoises in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park;
- 400 m for threatened or endangered whales, dolphins and porpoises in the St. Lawrence Estuary (the critical habitat of the endangered St. Lawrence Estuary beluga); and
- 50 m in parts of the Churchill Estuary (which includes the Churchill River) and parts of the Seal River
More information on distances that is tailored to particular circumstances are outlined in the Regulations.
Responsible viewing of marine mammals provides the opportunity for people to become familiar with marine mammals and their critical habitat and to become involved in conservation efforts on a local, regional, national and international level. Fisheries and Oceans Canada is also sensitive to balancing the need to protect marine mammals with the fact that whale watching activities and related industries contribute economically to coastal communities.
We are committed to working together with tourism operators, environmental organizations and other government departments to educate Canadians about marine mammal conservation and to ensure that all Canadians can continue to enjoy our marine environment.
“Our government is committed to protecting our oceans and the marine mammals that call our oceans home. These stronger rules will help to ensure our whales and marine mammals can still be enjoyed, but at a safe distance. Finalizing these regulations is just another concrete measure that our government is taking to make sure that our marine life is protected for future generations.”
The Honourable Dominic LeBlanc, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard
These amendments include measures to reduce disturbance associated with vessel presence, which is a recovery objective for the Southern Resident killer whale, the St. Lawrence Estuary beluga and the North Atlantic right whale.
Marine mammals face a complex mix of threats—such as the availability of prey, increased noise levels from passing ships, vessel strikes, gear entanglement and pollution in the water. These threats are particularly challenging for endangered whale populations – notably the Southern Resident killer whale, the North Atlantic right whale and the St. Lawrence Estuary beluga.
The amended regulations clarify what it means to disturb a marine mammal, including: feeding, swimming or interacting with it; moving it (or enticing/causing it to move); separating a marine mammal from its group or going between it and a calf; trapping marine mammals between a vessel and the shore, or between boats; as well as tagging or marking it.
Before these changes, voluntary guidelines existed but they were not enforceable. These amendments make it possible for anyone in contravention of the Regulations to be charged with an offence under the Fisheries Act.
These amendments are based on past consultations with various industries, the scientific community, and environmental non-governmental organizations.
Office of the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans
and the Canadian Coast Guard
Fisheries and Oceans Canada