Frequently Asked Questions – Interim Order Respecting the Protection of the Killer Whale (Orcinus orca) in the Waters of Southern British Columbia

From: Transport Canada

Q1: Will the measures in the Interim Order be made permanent?

The measures will be monitored to assess their effectiveness in reducing noise, as well as socio-economic impacts. Future action will be determined in consultation with stakeholders and First Nations, and is in keeping with Transport Canada’s ongoing, adaptive management approach.

Q2: Why did the Minister of Transport make this Interim Order? And what is the role of Transport Canada in protecting Killer Whales?

The Minister of Transport issued the Interim Order because he is of the view that immediate action is required to deal with risks from vessels to the killer whale populations on the West Coast. The main purpose of the order is to put in place immediate measures to reduce underwater vessel noise and physical disturbance from marine traffic for all killer whales, focusing on key foraging areas for Southern Resident killer whales who are listed as endangered under the Species at Risk Act.

Transport Canada is responsible for promoting safe, secure, efficient and environmentally responsible transportation. The Canada Shipping Act, 2001 (CSA 2001) gives the Minister of Transport the authority to make regulations respecting the protection of the marine environment from the impacts of navigation and shipping activities (s.35.1(1)), as well as the authority to make an interim order if immediate action is required to deal with a direct or indirect risk to the marine environment, including on a precautionary basis.

Q3: What does the Interim Order do?

The Interim Order sets out two mandatory measures for vessels operating in certain areas of the waters of southern British Columbia to reduce physical and acoustic disturbance to killer whales.

First, the Interim Order prohibits vessels and persons operating and navigating a vessel, subject to exemptions, from approaching any killer whale at a distance of less than 400-metres while in Southern Resident killer whale critical habitat and British Columbia coastal waters east of Vancouver Island and south of Campbell River (Cape Mudge) and Malaspina Peninsula (Sarah Point).

Second, the Interim Order creates three Interim Sanctuary Zones, where vessel traffic is prohibited, including fishing or recreational boating, from June 1, 2020 until November 30, 2020 with some exceptions. These three zones are located off the south-west coast of Pender Island and south-east end of Saturna Island, and at Swiftsure Bank.

Q4: How was the Interim Order developed?

The Interim Order implements enhanced measures announced on May 7, 2020 that build upon earlier and complementary initiatives to support Southern Resident killer whale recovery. The Interim Order has been informed by the significant work of the technical working groups made up of Indigenous representatives, governments and key scientific and stakeholder advisors, and is designed to directly address key threats to the Southern Resident killer whale population’s long-term survival. The Interim Order was developed to help secure the recovery of the Southern Resident killer whales while considering the social and economic interests of Indigenous groups and coastal communities that rely on marine-based industries.

Q5: When will the sanctuaries / approach distance measures begin and how long will they be in place?

Interim Sanctuary Zones will be in place from June 1, 2020 through November 30, 2020. This period is based on the greater seasonal presence of Southern Resident killer whales in key areas of critical habitat in the Salish Sea. The 400 metre approach distance is in place year-round to provide on-going protection for any Southern Residents that are found in coastal BC waters, regardless of the season.The measures are intended to reduce vessel noise and physical disturbance by increasing the distance between vessels and the whales on an interim basis pending further feasibility assessment work on measures to reduce physical and acoustic disturbances.

Q6: Who does the Interim Order apply to?

The Interim Order applies to all vessels, which includes vessels that navigate in, on, through or immediately above water, regardless of the method of propulsion. This means large commercial vessels, cruise ships, submarines, sea planes, canoes, kayaks, sailboats, motorboats, and any other mode of transportation for use in a marine environment are included in this Interim Order. Exemptions are discussed in further detail below.

Q7: Where does the mandatory 400 metre approach distance to killer whales apply?

Vessels must stay a minimum of 400 metres away from any killer whale in SRKW critical habitat and BC coastal waters east of Vancouver Island and south of Campbell River (Cape Mudge) and Malaspina Peninsula (Sarah Point). The coordinates for the relevant range can be found in Schedule 1 of the Interim Order.

A map of the relevant range can be downloaded here. (*Note: This measure only applies in Canadian waters. Please ensure to check Be Whale Wise for measures in place in both Canadian and U.S. waters).

Q8: How was the geographic area for the 400 metre approach distance to killer whales decided?

The area where the 400 metre approach distance applies is based on the range of Southern Resident killer whales. The waters south of Campbell River on the east side of Vancouver Island have been identified as part of the Southern Resident killer whale range. On the west side of Vancouver Island, the area is based on the critical habitat of the Southern Resident Killer Whale.

This builds on existing prohibitions in place through the Marine Mammal Regulations, which require that persons and vessels travelling beyond the range identified in the Interim Order must still stay a minimum of 200 metres away from killer whales in Canadian waters off the coast of British Columbia.

Q9: Where are the Interim Sanctuary Zones located?

They are located:

The coordinates can be found in Schedule 2 of the Interim Order.

Q10: Do the 400 metre approach distance and Interim Sanctuary Zones apply to paddling and other non-motorized activities?

Yes, the 400 m approach distance and Interim Sanctuary Zones apply to paddling and other non-motorized activities however, human powered vessels have been provided with a 20 metre transit corridor along the shores of the Pender and Saturna Island Interim Sanctuary Zones.

Q11: Why do the 400 metre approach distance and Interim Sanctuary Zones apply to paddling and other non-motorized activities?

The Interim Order was issued to protect killer whales from both underwater noise and physical disturbance. For human-powered vessels such as canoes or kayaks, concerns include risks related to whales coming too close to a vessel, or vessels or persons making noise that can disturb, stress or prevent whales from feeding or communicating with each other.

In recognition that the size of the Interim Sanctuary Zones can result in unsafe conditions for human powered vessels, a 20 metre transit corridor along the shore of the Pender and Saturna Island Interim Sanctuary Zones has been established to allow paddlers to safely transit the prohibited zone.

Q12: Who is exempted from the 400 metre approach distance measure?

The following vessels and persons are exempt from the 400m approach distance measure within the relevant range:

  • vessels in transit (aka any vessel travelling directly from one point in the water to another);
  • vessels in distress or providing assistance to a vessel or person in distress;
  • vessels involved in pollution response operations;
  • vessels avoiding immediate or unforeseen danger;
  • employees of the Government of Canada and peace officers performing their duties or functions, persons assisting them, or persons that are present at the request of the Government of Canada;
  • persons undertaking certain activities, including scientific research, as authorized under the Species at Risk Act, Marine Mammal Regulations, or Fishery (General) Regulations; and
  • any vessel with these people on board.

Commercial whale watching and ecotourism businesses may apply for a special authorization to operate a vessel between 200 and 400 metres to watch non-Southern Resident killer whales.

Q13: Who is exempted from the Interim Sanctuary Zones measure?

The Interim Order provides a number of exemptions from the prohibition from traveling within an Interim Sanctuary Zones.

Specifically, the following vessels and persons are exempt:

  • local traffic that needs to access a residence, commercial establishments or any other establishment providing a service on North Pender or southeast Saturna Islands, or a mooring buoy within the sanctuary, if travel by water within an Interim Sanctuary Zone is the only practical means of doing so. For example, if you need to access a residence, business or service that is not accessible by road, you would generally be permitted to travel through the area to reach it;
  • vessels in distress or providing assistance to a vessel or person in distress;
  • vessels involved in pollution response operations;
  • vessels avoiding immediate or unforeseen danger;
  • employees of the Government of Canada and peace officers performing their duties or functions, persons assisting them, or persons that are present at the request of the Government of Canada;
  • persons undertaking certain activities, including scientific research, as authorized under either the Species at Risk Act, Marine Mammal Regulations, or Fishery (General) Regulations;
  • persons fishing for food, social or ceremonial purposes or for domestic purposes pursuant to a treaty within the meaning of section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, in accordance with a licence issued under the Aboriginal Communal Fishing Licence Regulations; and
  • Indigenous persons exercising an existing right for non-commercial purposes, other than fishing, under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

Q14: What constitutes an immediate or unforeseen danger?

An immediate or unforeseen danger includes any situation in which weather, mechanical issues or collision risks require the vessel to ignore a provision of the Interim Order because that is the safest route or the quickest path to safety.

Q15: What is the penalty for vessel operators who do not obey the mandatory sanctuaries / approach distances?

The enforcement regime under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 applies to violations of the Interim Order. This means that any person or vessel that does not comply with the Interim Order may be subject to an administrative monetary penalty of up to $250,000, or a fine of up to $1 million and/or imprisonment up to a maximum of 18 months upon summary conviction.

Q16: Why is Transport Canada providing commercial whale watching business authorizations to approach non-Southern Resident killer whales up to 200 metres?

The primary objective of the 400m approach distance is to reduce the risk to the Southern Resident killer whales, who face imminent threats to their survival and recovery. The average boater does not have the ability to tell the difference between Southern Resident killer whales and other killer whales, so must stay at least 400 metres away from all killer whales to be certain of not approaching Southern Residents. Commercial whale watching companies employ trained naturalists with expertise in identifying different types of killer whales including knowledge of their social structure, behavior and appearance. These companies are therefore eligible to apply for an authorization to approach non-Southern Residents at 200m, which is consistent with existing requirements in the Marine Mammal Regulations. In order to receive this authorization, they must enter an Agreement with the Minister of Transport that commits them to not intentionally offer, plan or promote excursions based on viewing of SRKW.

Q17: Why is Transport Canada providing Straitwatch and Soundwatch authorizations to approach non-Southern Resident Killer Whales up to 200 metres?

Straitwatch and Soundwatch are organizations recognized by the Government of Canada for their work on the water to monitor vessel impacts on whales and educate boaters and mariners on best practices around whales. This will include educating boaters on the water about the mandatory 400mapproach distance and the Interim Sanctuary Zones

Q18: I am a commercial whale watching operator, how do I apply for the authorization?

Commercial whale watching or eco-tourism businesses, including those owned or operated by Indigenous peoples, that offer whale watching tours and travel within Southern Resident killer whale relevant range are eligible to apply for an authorization to view non-Southern Resident killer whales at a minimum distance of 200 metres. This authorization includes an agreement on behalf of the operator to take specific actions to reduce impacts of their operations on Southern Residents.

If you would like to apply for an authorization, or have additional questions, please contact: TC.QuietShips-Naviressilencieux.TC@tc.gc.ca

Approved applicants will receive an authorization letter that is required to be produced for enforcement purposes.

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