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

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 to the killer whale populations on the West Coast. The main purpose of the order is to implement new measures to reduce underwater noise and physical disturbance from marine traffic for all killer whales, focusing on key foraging areas for Southern Resident killer whales recognizing the imminent threats facing the species.

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 new 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 within the Southern Resident killer whale critical habitat.

Second, the Interim Order creates three new Interim Sanctuary Zones, where vessel traffic is prohibited, including fishing or recreational boating, from June 1 until October 31, subject to 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 10 that build upon earlier initiatives to support Southern Resident killer whale recovery. The Interim Order has been informed by the significant work of five technical working groups comprised 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?

Measures will be in place from June 1, 2019 through October 31, 2019. The Interim Order is designed to protect the whales during the season they are most frequently found in Canadian waters. The measures are intended to create spaces of refuge for the whales to reduce vessel noise in proximity to them 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 throughout the Southern Resident killer whale critical habitat. The coordinates for the critical habitat can be found in Schedule 1 of the Interim Order.

A map of the critical habitat can be downloaded here. (*Note: The measure only applies in Canadian waters).

This builds on existing prohibitions in place through the Marine Mammal Regulations, which provide that persons and vessels travelling outside the Southern Resident killer whale critical habitat must stay a minimum of 200 metres away from all killer whales in Canadian fisheries waters in the Pacific Ocean and British Columbia.

Q8: Where are the Interim Sanctuary Zones located?

They are located off the south-west coast of Pender Island and south-east end of Saturna Island, and at Swiftsure Bank. The coordinates can be found in Schedule 2 of the Interim Order.

Maps of the zones can be downloaded here: Swiftsure Bank, Gulf Islands.

Q9: Why do the 400 m 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.

Q10: Who is exempted from the 400 m approach distance measure?

The following vessels and persons are exempt from the prohibition against approaching a killer whale within 400 m within the Southern Resident killer whale critical habitat:

  • 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 can apply for a special authorization to operate a vessel between 200 m and 400 m to watch non-Southern Resident killer whales.

Q11: 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 from the prohibition from traveling within the zones:

  • local traffic that needs to access a residence or business 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 or business 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.

Q12: 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 go through the Interim sanctuary zone because that is the safest route or the quickest path to safety.

Q13: What is the penalty for vessel operators who do not adhere to 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.

Q14: Why is Transport Canada providing commercial whale watching business authorizations to approach non-Southern Resident killer whales up to 200 metres?

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.

Q15: I am a commercial whale watching operator, how do I apply for the authorization?

If you own or operate a commercial whale watching business or an eco-tourism business, including those owned or operated by Indigenous peoples, that offers whale watching, and you travel within Southern Resident killer whale critical habitat, then you can apply for an authorization to view non-Southern Resident killer whales at a minimum distance of 200 m.

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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