Whale Watching Vessel Humpback Sight

New Distance Guidelines for Whale Watching

Why we're proud to adhere to these protective measures

At Prince of Whales Whale Watching, what motivated the inception of our journey–and what continues to guide us every day–is a sense of responsibility for where we live, including the wildlife we encounter on every tour. From North Pacific seabirds to island-dwelling deer, ocean-bathing sea lions, and our majestic cetaceans, nothing incites more passion for environmental concern than our northern fauna. Understandably, we want to do everything we can to assure these animals are able to enjoy the place they call home.

While this advocacy certainly encompasses our concern over ocean acidity, plastic build-up, and dwindling salmon populations (more on our donations to the Pacific Salmon Foundation in an upcoming blog!), it also means we follow and support the ‘Be Whale Wise’ distance guidelines set by the Pacific Whale Watching Association (PWWA). 

“The PWWA and Prince of Whales have always taken a proactive approach to marine mammal conservation by establishing voluntary distance requirements”

Recently, there’s been growing concern about the health and survival of the Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKWs). On July 24th, J35 (Tahlequah) gave birth to a female calf, but unfortunately, the baby orca did not survive. J35 carried he dead calf for 17 days on a tour of grief before finally letting her go. In this emotional time, Prince of Whales Whale Watching has taken measures to assure that our staff give J35 and the rest of the SRKWs their space.

Whenever possible, we choose to watch Bigg’s (Transient) Killer Whales or Humpback Whales in place of SRKWs. Critically, the recommended distances have also expanded for both species of Killer Whales (Resident and Transient) federally from 100m to 200m. The distance requirements for humpback whales, dolphins, and pinnipeds remains the same: vessels are not to approach them within a 100m proximity.

BC Whale Watching

The PWWA and Prince of Whales have always taken a proactive approach to marine mammal conservation by establishing voluntary distance requirements from marine mammals that not only meet but exceed what is mandated as law by the federal government. The ‘Be Whale Wise’ guidelines have always explained to vessel operators that they should further power down at 800m and approach slowly (at no more than 7 knots), until the recommended distance.

This voluntary slow approach distance has also been increased: to 1000m as of spring, 2018. Leaving the whale occupied vicinity, to the same distance of 1000m, must also happen at no more than 7 knots. Boat drivers are to watch while traveling alongside the whales in a parallel direction to the one that the mammals are traveling in. This is still the case and Prince of Whales Whale Watching skippers and captains have long understood and followed this. 

“We follow these guidelines not only because they are the law, but because we understand where we are: in their home.”

On some tours, however, whales may approach on their own accord. Just like humans, they can change their minds and change direction unpredictably. If they do so, operators will turn off their engines (when it is navigationally safe to do so) and respectfully drift and view. Whales, unlike humans, don’t understand distance the same way that we do; salmon, sea lions and other small fish consumed by whales for sustenance, can sometimes gather under vessels, so whales may approach in this instance. If they do so, full respect to these guidelines, regulations, laws are still kept in mind and followed. 

We do so not only because they are the law, but because we understand where we are: in their home. As visitors of these majestic, gracious hosts, we honour them and the researchers who advocate on their behalf with these approaches. We hope you’re excited to join us in this actionable respect for our beautiful whales!