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Whale watching boats to stay back 200 metres

Last Updated Oct 26, 2017 at 10:40 pm PDT

Three orcas, also known as killer whales, of the resident J pod, swim in the blue waters of British Columbia, Canada. (iStock Photo)

Local environment group calls situation for orca population 'dire'

The move is meant to minimize noise pollution for whales which use echolocation to navigate and find food

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Passengers in whale watching boats off our coast won’t be able to get as close to orcas as they used to.

New rules are coming to ensure no boat comes within 200-metres of southern resident killer whales in Canadian waters.

Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc is promising the new regulations will be in place before the spring.

Washington State has a strict law forcing boats to stay about 200-metres away from the whales at all times. In Canada, the limit is 100-metres and currently it’s a guideline, not a requirement.

Because orcas use sound and echolocation to move about and find their food, environmental groups are looking for regulations that minimize sound pollution in their environment.

There are fewer than 100 southern resident killer whales in the Salish Sea, the series of waterways off the straits of Georgia, Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound.

“We hope this is the first step in urgent actions to come,” says Rachael Merrett, species protection coordinator with the Georgia Strait Alliance.

“Specifically for the southern resident killer whales it’s a dire situation, given there are only 76 left. They are in bad shape.”

She says action has to be taken on other fronts as well, if the orcas are to be saved.

“They are also facing a lack of abundance and availability of their primary prey which is Chinook salmon. Other vessel noise and disturbances are another problem. And we have to address toxic contamination loads in the marine environment,” she notes.

Merrett says if things don’t change, extinction of the local species is entirely possible.