The Government of Canada outlines 2020 measures to protect Southern Resident killer whales

The Government of Canada recognizes that Southern Resident killer whales face imminent threats to their survival, and that saving these iconic marine mammals requires comprehensive and immediate action.


Chinook salmon are an essential component of the Southern Resident killer whale diet. To address the limited availability of this prey, the Government of Canada is putting in place the following combination of fishing restrictions and voluntary measures, similar to those in 2019. These actions will reduce competition for Chinook salmon between fish harvesters and killer whales, while still providing opportunities for non-salmon recreational and commercial fisheries.

In 2020, there are small changes to the area-based closures from 2019, which will be in place in Southern Resident killer whale key foraging areas for recreational and commercial salmon fisheries in the summer and fall (specific dates to follow) including:

  • The Strait of Juan de Fuca (Subareas 20-3, 20-4, and, new for 2020, a portion of 121-1)
  • Gulf Islands (Subarea 18-9 and portions of 18-4, 18-5, 18-2, and, new for 2020, a portion of 18-11)

The request by Fisheries and Oceans Canada for all fishers to temporarily cease fishing activities when killer whales are within 1,000 metres is extended from key foraging areas in the summer months to year-round throughout Canadian Pacific waters.

Acoustic and physical disturbances from vessels

All vessels, including recreational boats and whale watching vessels, have an important role to play in reducing acoustic and physical disturbance. For a second consecutive year, the Government of Canada is implementing expanded measures for vessel operators:

  • Vessels are prohibited from approaching any killer whale within 400 metres in British Columbia coastal waters between Campbell River to just north of Ucluelet.
    • Whale watching and ecotourism companies that receive an authorization from the Minister of Transport will be able to view all whales other than the Southern Resident killer whales from 200 metres, given their expertise in detecting different types of killer whales.
  • Vessels are asked to turn off echo sounders and fish finders when not needed, and turn engines to neutral idle if a whale is within 400 metres.
  • All vessels are asked to reduce their speed to less than 7 knots if they are within 1,000 metres killer whales, to reduce engine noise and vessel wake.

Interim sanctuary zones

Interim sanctuary zones create spaces of refuge for the whales on a temporary basis, pending further research into a longer-term approach. The location of these zones is based on scientific knowledge of important foraging areas for Southern Resident killer whales.

  • From June 1 until November 30, 2020, no vessel traffic or fishing activity is allowed in interim sanctuary zones off the southwest coast of Pender Island, southeast end of Saturna Island and at Swiftsure Bank. Exceptions will be allowed for emergency vessels and vessels engaged in Indigenous food, social and ceremonial fisheries. Vessel restrictions in the interim sanctuary zones will be put in place using the Interim Order power of the Minister of Transport under the Canada Shipping Act.
  • To ensure the safety of those operating human-powered vessels, a 20-metre corridor next to shore will allow kayakers and other paddlers to transit through these zones. If a killer whale is in the sanctuary at the time, paddlers must remain 400 metres away from the whales.


The Government of Canada leads a technical working group comprised of key partners from other levels of government, academia and non-governmental organizations. Over the past year, this group has identified key contaminants of concern; evaluated the contribution of point and non-point sources of contaminants to the Southern Resident killer whale, their habitat and their prey; and developed a framework to assess the effectiveness of existing controls on contaminants that affect the Southern Resident killer whale. In addition, over 200 guidelines were compiled for contaminants of concern and a scientific decision-making framework was developed to determine which guidelines were still acceptable, and which ones need to be revised or developed.

Reflecting on the nature of contaminants’ persistence in the environment, the Government of Canada and its partners have identified long-term actions to support Southern Resident killer whale recovery in the following areas:

  • Develop and implement further controls such as regulations or guidelines to reduce the threat of contaminants;
  • Conduct research and monitoring to further our understanding of contaminants in the environment and their impacts;
  • Share data, information, and knowledge among partners to inform decision-making; and
  • Undertake outreach, education and engagement to inform the public and involve them in solutions.