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New rules for B.C. boaters to help protect southern resident killer whales

Click to play video 'Quieter oceans a boon to whale researchers and orcas' Quieter oceans a boon to whale researchers and orcas
The drop in ocean vessel traffic caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented opportunity for orca researchers, and could also be helping the whales themselves. Linda Aylesworth reports. – May 6, 2020

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has outlined measures for boaters to protect southern resident killer whales.

The southern resident killer whales are listed as endangered, and just 73 of the orcas remain.

Vessels are prohibited from coming within 400 metres of any killer whale in B.C. coastal waters between Campbell River to just north of Ucluelet.

Click to play video 'Quieter oceans a boon to whale researchers and orcas' Quieter oceans a boon to whale researchers and orcas
Quieter oceans a boon to whale researchers and orcas – May 6, 2020

Authorized whale watching and ecotourism operators will be able to view all whales other than the southern resident killer whales from a distance of 200 metres.

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Vessels are asked to turn engines to neutral idle if they are within 400 metres of a whale and slow to less than seven knots if they are within 1,000 metres of killer whales to reduce engine noise and vessel wake.

They are also being asked to turn off echo sounders and fish finders when they are not needed.

Click to play video 'Drones offer new perspective on resident killer whale behaviour' Drones offer new perspective on resident killer whale behaviour
Drones offer new perspective on resident killer whale behaviour – Nov 4, 2019

Interim sanctuary zones have been established to provide a refuge for the whales.

No vessel traffic or fishing activity will be allowed in the zone, located off the southwest coast of Pender Island, southeast end of Saturna Island and at Swiftsure Bank, from June 1 to November 30.

Exceptions will be made for emergency vessels and vessels engaged in Indigenous food, social and ceremonial fisheries.

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A 20-metre corridor next to shore will allow kayakers and other paddlers to travel through the zones. Paddlers must remain 400 metres away from any whales that are in sanctuary.

Similar measures to protect the endangered marine mammal were put in place last year.

READ MORE: ‘Quieter ocean’ from COVID-19 could be a boon to endangered orcas, say researchers

Researchers have noted that southern resident killer whales are facing an unprecedented respite from human-caused marine noise during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“What we are experiencing right now is actually an unprecedented opportunity of a quieter ocean,” said Prof. Richard Dewey, associate director of science with Ocean Networks Canada at the University of Victoria.

“They will experience, I think, a quieter ocean and perhaps may be able to socialize, forage and hunt better than they have in the last few years.”

Fishing restrictions are also putting put in place to protect Chinook salmon, a key part of the southern resident killer whale diet.

— With files from Linda Aylesworth