See A Blow? Go Slow!

Avoid collisions

Thank you for your interest in how to be a responsible vessel operator in the presence of marine wildlife. If you have witnessed an incident of concern, please call the DFO Incident Reporting Line at 1-800-465-4336.

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Key points to avoid marine mammal contact or collision
Areas of known whale density
"Be Whale Wise" Guidelines
What do to in case of finding an entangled whale

Key points to avoid marine mammal contact or collision

Whales, dolphins, and porpoises can surface very unpredictably in front of your vessel. Baleen whales such as Humpback Whales can remain submerged for 15 to 20 minutes and often exhibit random travel patterns. Animals may surface without warning and can be difficult to avoid, especially if you are traveling at speed. They can also suddenly become acrobatic and breach without warning. To increase safety for both boaters and marine wildlife, the following key points are provided:

  • Always be on the lookout for blows (see below).
  • Watch for vessels flying the "Whale Watch Flag". This signals that whales are near (see below).
  • Be alert for large aggregations of birds (see below).
  • Increase vigilance in areas of known whale density.

When you suspect that there are whales in the vicinity:

  • Slow down. Speed should not be more than 7 knots when 100 to 400m from a whale.
  • Do not position beside "bait balls" of small schooling fish (as indicated by aggregations of birds).
  • Stay clear of the whales' path.
  • Do not approach within 100m. If a whale surfaces within 100m of your vessel, place engine in neutral (or ideally shut off the engine) until the whales are beyond 100m.
  • Follow the "Be Whale Wise" Guidelines below

If, despite this vigilance, you experience or witness a collision or other incident of concern such as entanglement or disturbance, please call the DFO Incident Reporting Line at 1-800-465-4336.

whale blow
Humpback whale blows can be 2m high but are difficult to see in windy conditions. The blows of smaller whale species, such as Minke Whales and Killer Whales, can be much more difficult to detect.
whale watch flag
If you see this flag, it means that whales are in the area. Reduce speed and proceed with enhanced caution.
Aggregations of birds often means that there is a lot of feed in the area and thereby an enhanced chance of whale presence.

Areas of known whale density

The coloured areas on these maps indicate locations of known whale density off northeastern Vancouver Island, with the dark blue areas highlighting regions where enhanced caution is especially required. Note that the locations of individual marine mammals cannot be predicted with certainty, and therefore the key points to avoid marine mammal contact or collision should always be followed.

Map of known whale density
Map of areas of known whale density off Telegraph Cove / Port McNeill (based on MERS research). Click to enlarge.
Map of known whale density around Campbell River and Comox
Map of areas of known whale density around Campbell River and Comox (based on MERS research and B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network data). Click to enlarge.
Map of known whale density in the Strait of Georgia
Map of areas of known whale density in the Strait of Georgia (based on B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network data). Click to enlarge.

Research Vessels

permit flag

Note that only vessels flying a triangular yellow pennant (like the one to the left) are licensed by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to undertake research on marine mammals. This may involve approaching marine mammals within the 100m limit for research purposes. The lettering MML indicates "Marine Mammal License" and the number identifies the individual researcher.

Be Whale Wise Guidelines for Whales, Porpoises, and Dolphins

Be Whale Wise
Be Whale Wise. Click to enlarge.

1. 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.
2. SLOW DOWN: reduce speed to less than 7 knots when within 400 metres of the nearest whale. Avoid abrupt course changes.
3. KEEP CLEAR of the whales' path. If whales are approaching you, cautiously move out of the way. 4. 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.
5. DO NOT APPROACH or position your vessel closer than 100 metres to any whale.
6. If your vessel is not in compliance with the 100 metres approach guideline (#5), place engine in neutral and allow whales to pass.
7. STAY on the OFFSHORE side of the whales when they are traveling close to shore.
8. 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.
9. DO NOT swim with, touch, or feed marine wildlife.

Regarding bow and stern-riding porpoises and dolphins:
1. DO NOT drive through groups of porpoises or dolphins to encourage bow or stern-riding.
2. 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.

Be Whale Wise Marine Wildlife Guidelines for seals, sea lions, and birds on land:
1. BE CAUTIOUS AND QUIET when around haul-outs and bird colonies, especially during breeding, nesting, and pupping seasons (generally May to September).
2. REDUCE SPEED to minimize wake, wash and noise, and then slowly pass without stopping.
3. AVOID approaching closer than 100 metres to any marine mammals or birds.
4. PAY ATTENTION and move away, slowly and cautiously, at the first sign of disturbance or agitation.
5. DO NOT disturb, move, feed, and touch any marine wildlife, including seal pups. If you are concerned about a potentially sick or stranded animal contact the DFO Incident Reporting Line at 1-800-465-4336.

What to do in case of entanglement

Cutter entangled

Twister entangled

With increasing numbers of Humpbacks on BC's coast, the risk of whale entanglement has become greater. Preliminary results from research conducted by MERS and DFO suggest that over 47% of Humpbacks in BC have been entangled (>1,000 Humpbacks). This data provides an indication of how serious the risk of entanglement is but does not reveal how many Humpbacks die after becoming entangled.

What to do if you find an entangled whale:

  • With great urgency, report the entanglement with location to the DFO Incident Line / VHF 16. 1-800-465-4336.
  • If at all possible, remain with the whale at a distance until trained help arrives or another boat takes over tracking, otherwise the chances of relocating the whale are greatly diminished
  • Take whatever video/photos are possible but maintain a distance that doesn't stress the whale.
  • Do NOT attempt to remove any fishing gear or rope from the whale as it risks human and whale safety (has led to human death). Professional training and equipment are needed to assess the entanglement and proceed safely with the greatest chance of success. Often, much of the fishing gear in which the whale is entangled is not visible at the surface. If well-intentioned members of the public remove the gear at the surface, it is made much more difficult to: (1) recognize that the whale is entangled; and (2) disentangle the whale even if it is relocated. Trailing gear at the surface provides the opportunity for trained responders to attach a tag to track the whale and/or to attach floatation to maintain contact with and slow down an entangled whale. Loss of this gear can significantly reduce rescuers' ability to save the whale.

This project was undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada
through the federal Department of the Environment.

Special thanks to the Habitat Stewardship Program and to Fisheries and Oceans Canada for support.