The marine area of northern Vancouver Island has a high abundance and diversity of marine mammals and seabirds. These animals are vulnerable to impacts from chemical and noise pollution, fishing activity, global climate change and loss of habitat. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada have listed the northern resident killer whales, transient killer whales and humpback whales as threatened. In response to the growth of commercial and recreation marine mammal viewing activities, guidelines have been developed to help reduce the risk of disturbance by vessel traffic.
The whale watching guidelines are endorsed by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and BC Parks in Canada and by NOAA Fisheries and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in the US.
BE CAUTIOUS and COURTEOUS: approach areas of known or suspected marine wildlife activity with extreme caution. Look in all directions before planning your approach or departure.
SLOW DOWN: reduce speed to less than 7 knots when within 400 metres/yards of the nearest whale. Avoid abrupt course changes.
KEEP CLEAR of the whales’ path. If whales are approaching you, cautiously move out of the way. Pay attention and move away slowly and cautiously at the first sign of disturbance or agitation from any animal.
DO NOT APPROACH whales from the front or from behind. Always approach and depart whales from the side, moving in a direction parallel to the direction of the whales.
DO NOT APPROACH or position your vessel closer than 200 metres/yards to any killer whale. Do not approach or get closer than 100 metres/yards to any other marine mammal.
If your vessel is not in compliance with the approach distance guidelines (#5), place engine in neutral and allow animals to pass.
STAY on the OFFSHORE side of the whales when they are traveling close to shore.
LIMIT your viewing time to a recommended maximum of 30 minutes. This will minimize the cumulative impact of many vessels and give consideration to other viewers.
DO NOT swim with, touch or feed marine wildlife.
Regional Specific Viewing Conduct for Northern Vancouver Island
Bow and Stern-Riding Porpoises and Dolphins:
DO NOT drive through groups of porpoises or dolphins to encourage bow or stern-riding.
Should dolphins or porpoises choose to ride the bow wave of your vessel, avoid sudden course changes. Hold course and speed or reduce speed gradually.
Seals, Sea Lions and Birds on Land:
BE CAUTIOUS AND QUIET when around haul-outs and bird colonies, especially during breeding, nesting and pupping seasons (generally May to September).
REDUCE SPEED, minimize wake, wash and noise, and then slowly pass without stopping.
AVOID approaching closer than 100 metres/yards to any marine mammals or birds.
PAY ATTENTION and move away, slowly and cautiously, at the first sign of disturbance or agitation.
DO NOT disturb, move, feed or touch any marine wildlife, including seal pups. If you are concerned about a potentially sick or stranded animal, contact your local stranding network where available.