Protecting North Atlantic right whales from collisions with ships in the Gulf of St. Lawrence

Transport Canada is committed to the protection and recovery of the endangered North Atlantic right whales. We are taking actions to protect this species in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

On this page

Actions taken to date

On August 11, 2017, the Government of Canada implemented a speed restriction for vessels 20 metres or longer to a maximum of 10 knots when travelling in the western Gulf of St. Lawrence. This speed restriction was lifted on January 11, 2018.

In 2018, we took action for a second year to minimize risks for navigational safety and North Atlantic right whales (NARWs) in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

There were no documented fatalities of NARW in Canadian waters in 2018. The NARW measures put in place through effective collaboration with the marine industry, non-governmental organizations, academia, Indigenous peoples and federal departments was key to this success.

For 2019, the mandatory speed restrictions came into force on April 28, 2019 and will stay in place until November 15, 2019, but can be extended should whales continue to be present.

Overview of protections

This season, Transport Canada is using two measures to protect right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence:

  1. Shown in pink in the map below, from April 28 to November 15, 2019, a fixed speed restriction is in place in a large area known as the speed reduction zone or the static zone in which:
    • vessels 20 metres and above cannot travel over 10 knots (except where required for safety reasons)
    • other vessels are encouraged to respect this limit
  2. Shown in green, temporary speed restrictions are implemented in designated areas within the shipping lanes when a right whale is spotted in or near the shipping lane. These are identified as dynamic shipping sectors A, B, C, and D on the map.

Weather and sea conditions can impact the safe operation of a vessel. Vessels in the static zone and dynamic shipping lanes, when the speed restriction is in effect, are required to operate at a maximum of 10 knots only when safe to do so.

For navigational warnings (formerly known as notices to shipping) currently in force, visit the Canadian Coast Guard website.

In addition to the speed restriction implemented by our department, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has also implemented other measures to help protect North Atlantic right whales.

Static protected area

A speed restriction is in force from April 28 to November 15, 2019 for vessels 20 metres or longer to a maximum of 10 knots when travelling in the western Gulf of St. Lawrence. This speed restriction zone is shown in the pink area in the map below.

Temporary speed restriction in shipping lanes

There are two shipping lanes where speed restrictions can be activated:

  1. South of Anticosti Island: divided into three speed restriction sectors (see areas A, B, C on the map)
  2. North of Anticosti Island: part of the shipping lane consists of a speed restriction sector (see area D)
Dynamic shipping sectors
Figure – Static Speed Reduction Zone and Dynamic Shipping Sectors

This map is for visual representation only and is not to be used for navigation or enforcement.

Speed restrictions will be in effect in the shipping sectors as follows:

Two distinct situations will activate a speed restriction:

  1. When at least one right whale is seen in:
    • dynamic shipping sectors north and/or south of Anticosti Island
    • a 2.5-nautical-mile buffer area adjacent to the dynamic shipping sector; OR
  2. If a right whale is seen within 2.5 nautical miles of a border between sectors, a speed restriction will be activated in the adjacent sector.

Each speed restriction will be in force for 15 days. If right whales are not seen with surveillance flights during the 15-day period, the speed restriction will be lifted at the end of the period.

When unable to complete one aerial surveillance flight within a 7-day period, usually due to weather, the speed restriction will apply to the dynamic shipping sector(s) until another surveillance flight confirms there are no right whales present. Surveillance flights take place as soon as weather conditions improve to allow for proper surveillance of the right whales.

Voluntary slowdown period

Weather conditions are less favourable for both navigation and whale-observation flights from late fall into early spring. During this time, we ask all vessels to slowdown to 10 knots if:

  • right whales are confirmed to be in the area, and/or
  • maritime conditions permit vessels to safely operate at this speed

Compliance and enforcement

To verify compliance, we use vessel data provided by the Canadian Coast Guard.

If a vessel appears to have gone over the 10 knot speed limit, our marine safety inspectors will:

  • review information from the Canadian Coast Guard;
  • seek additional evidence by contacting the vessel's master. This will allow for the collection of more data including information from the vessel’s log book and the verification of its content with the master.

We will not grant exemptions, but we will consider factors such as:

  • operational decisions made by the vessel’s master to maintain vessel safety
  • weather and navigational conditions
  • decisions made in response to emergencies

If it is determined that a vessel did not comply with the right whale speed restrictions, vessel owners could be fined from $6,000 to $25,000.

If we issue a fine, vessel owners will have 30 days to pay the penalty or to ask the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada to review the facts of the alleged violation or the amount of the penalty.

Compliance update

Transport Canada takes the speed restriction very seriously and examines all potential cases of non-compliance. Out of 111 cases reported between April 28 and June 27, 2019, no penalty was issued and 9 cases are under review. All other cases have been closed. Approximately 1472 vessel transits occurred during the period.

Total number of vessel transits monitored in the speed restriction zone: 1472

Total number of vessels with speed recorded above 10 knots: 111

Compliance Statistics

Status Number of Vessels
Closed 102
Penalties Issued 0
Under Review 9
Total 111

Planning for the future

Transport Canada continuously engages with the marine industry, non-governmental organizations, academia, Indigenous peoples and other federal departments to acquire and share valuable information. Together we are assessing lessons learned from the past seasons and finding the right path forward for all.

Date modified: