See a Blow? Go Slow!

Thank you for your interest in how to be a responsible and safe vessel operator in the presence of marine wildlife.

Our "See a Blow, Go Slow" campaign provides information about Marine Mammal Regulations in Canada, how to avoid collisions with marine mammals, and what to do if a collision or entanglement occurs. 

If you have witnessed an incident of concern, please call the DFO Incident Reporting Line at 1-800-465-4336

Additional MERS resources: Video "How To Save a Whale" and the national Boat Blue Guide "Boaters and Marine Mammals - safety  and stewardship

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Marine Mammal Regulations in Canada

Canada’s Marine Mammal Regulations were updated in July 2018. Click here for the full Regulations.  

They include:

No person shall approach a marine mammal to, or to attempt to:

(a) feed it;
(b) swim with it or interact with it;
(c) move it or entice or cause it to move from the immediate vicinity in which it is found;
(d) separate it from members of its group or go between it and a calf;
(e) trap it or its group between a vessel and the shore or between a vessel and one or more other vessels; or
(f) tag or mark it.

Minimum approach distances for vessels:
- 200 m* for all Killer Whales (in Pacific waters); 
- 200 m for whale, dolphin and porpoise species with calves or in resting position; and 

- 100 m for all other whales, dolphins and porpoises. 

Mandatory reporting of any accidental contact between a marine mammal and a vehicle or fishing gear
(DFO Incident Reporting Line 1-800-465-4336).

remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) are considered “aircraft” under the Marine Mammal Regulations.  As it pertains to section 7.2(1): It is thereby illegal to approach a marine mammal with a drone unless authorized under permit for scientific research and/or marine mammal rescue efforts.

*Update 2021: "Additional Management Measures to Protect Southern Resident Killer Whales include: To address disturbance in the presence of whales, a mandatory 400-metre vessel approach distance for all killer whales in all southern British Columbia coastal waters between Campbell River and just north of Ucluelet. Includes Howe Sound and Barkley Sound as of April 2021. Click here for the full 2021 Management Measures and maps including sanctuary zones and fishing measures. 

Examples of human injury and material damage resulting from collision with Humpbacks. Click to enlarge.

Key Points to Avoid 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 and other indicators of whale presence such as aggregations of birds (see below).
  • Watch for vessels flying the "Whale Warning Flag". This signals that whales are near (see below).
  • Increase vigilance in areas of known whale density.

When You Suspect You Are in the Vicinity of Whales:

  • Slow down. Speed should not be more than 7 knots when 200 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 200m. If a whale surfaces within 200m of your vessel, place engine in neutral (or ideally shut off the engine) until the whales are beyond 200m. 
  • If kayaking, raft up. 
  • Follow additional "Be Whale Wise" points below.

If, despite this vigilance, you experience or witness a collision or other incident of concern such as entanglement or disturbance, report to the 
DFO Incident Reporting Line at 1-800-465-4336 (or if out of cell range, report to VHF 16). If possible, without further stressing the whale, get photos that show the injury and allow the whale to be identified (dorsal and / or tail photos).  See below for further detail on what to do in case of entanglement. 

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 Warning Flag: If you see this flag, it means that whales are in the area. Reduce speed and proceed with enhanced caution. To obtain a Whale Warning Flag, click here

Aggregations of birds often indicate that there is a lot of feed in the area and thereby an enhanced chance of whale presence.

Areas of Known Humpback 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 collision should always be followed.

Map of areas of known whale density off Telegraph Cove / Port McNeill (based on MERS research). Click to enlarge.

Map of areas of known whale density off Port Hardy (based on MERS research). Click to enlarge.

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 areas of known whale density around Southern Vancouver Island (based on MERS research, B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network data and Island Adventures Inc.). Click to enlarge.

Research Vessels

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 200m limit for research purposes. The lettering MML indicates "Marine Mammal License" and the number identifies the individual researcher.

Video on the Research Flag, Whale Warning Flag and Authorized Vessel Flag:

Additional Guidelines - "Be Whale Wise" 

  • STOP FISHING within 1,000 m of Orca year-round and in all Canadian Pacific waters (this is to aid Chinook salmon recovery and discourage depredation - that the whales learn to take fish from fishing gear). 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • STAY on the OFFSHORE side of the whales when they are traveling close to shore.
  • 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.

Regarding bow and stern-riding porpoises and dolphins:

  • DO NOT drive through groups of porpoises or dolphins to encourage bow or stern-riding.
  • 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:
  • BE CAUTIOUS AND QUIET when around haul-outs and bird colonies, especially during breeding, nesting, and pupping seasons (generally May to September).
  • REDUCE SPEED to minimize wake, wash and noise, and then slowly pass without stopping. 
  • AVOID approaching closer than 100 metres. 
  • PAY ATTENTION and move away, slowly and cautiously, at the first sign of disturbance or agitation.
  • 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.
See further detail re. Be Whale Wise at this link. 

What to Do if You Find an Entangled Whale

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.

All photos on this site provided by and © Jared Towers, Christie McMillan, Jackie Hildering, and Heidi Krajewsky, unless otherwise indicated.
Photos are not to be used without permission.

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