Government of Canada Continues Unprecedented Action to Protect Northern and Southern Resident Killer Whales

Ottawa, Ontario – Canada’s Northern and Southern Resident Killer Whales are critical to maintaining biodiversity in Pacific waters and hold special meaning and cultural value for many Canadians. The Government of Canada is dedicated to the protection and recovery of these whales.

The government has taken and will continue to take significant actions to help these iconic whales. Over the past year, we have provided support through Canada’s $1.5 billion Oceans Protection Plan and the newly launched $167 million Whales Initiative.

The Government of Canada is taking immediate and comprehensive action to encourage the recovery of Canada’s whales, by

  • reducing Chinook fisheries to increase this food source for both the Northern and Southern Residents;
  • adding more fishery officers on the water to verify compliance;
  • requiring a mandatory minimum approach distance of 200 metres for all killer whale populations in B.C. and the Pacific Ocean;
  • installing under-water hydrophones in the Salish Sea to better understand noise levels and impacts on the Southern Residents;
  • partnering with the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) program on a voluntary vessel slowdown in Haro Strait (where Southern Residents are often found) to reduce underwater noise levels of vessels using the port, with a current participation rate of around 90 per cent;
  • increasing aerial surveillance patrols through Transport Canada’s National Aerial Surveillance Program;
  • conducting additional research in contaminants, and noise from marine shipping for both Northern and Southern Residents;
  • collaborating with the shipping industry, United States partners, and Indigenous peoples to put in place a trial in which vessels move away from key foraging areas of the Southern Residents by going further south within existing shipping lanes in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
  • working with BC Ferries to develop a noise management plan to reduce the underwater noise generated by their fleet, including commitments to buying quieter vessels; and
  • increasing research, strengthening regulatory controls, and enhancing enforcement of environmental regulations to reduce contaminants affecting whales.

Protecting species at risk is a responsibility shared by all Canadians, and the Government of Canada is committed to working with its provincial and territorial partners, Indigenous peoples, industry and environmental stakeholders, and with all Canadians in implementing the Species at Risk Act (SARA).

To that end, the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, is inviting Canadians to share their views on a proposed Amended Recovery Strategy for the Northern and Southern Resident Killer Whales in Canada.

Proposed changes focus on updates to critical habitat – specific geographic locations and conditions necessary for the survival or recovery of a species. The proposed Amended Recovery Strategy includes the identification of two new areas of critical habitat; one off the coast of southwestern Vancouver Island, including Swiftsure and La Pérouse Banks (important for both Northern and Southern Residents; and the other in Dixon Entrance, along the north coast of Graham Island from Langara to Rose Spit (important for Northern Residents).

Canadians can provide feedback during the 60-day national public comment period until November 3, 2018.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada will also reach out to key stakeholders and Indigenous groups, to provide them with appropriate information to support comments they may wish to share.

We are working actively to protect species at risk through the development of pathways that recognize and work to accommodate important commercial and recreational interests.



“As a British Columbian, I know how the Southern Resident Killer Whale captures the imagination of Canadians and is a powerful symbol of British Columbia. That is why we continue to take urgent actions to protect our Resident Killer Whales. Building on measures to address prey availability and vessel disturbances, we are proposing new additional critical habitat to help safeguard the future of these whales. We fully intend to keep our commitment to protect and support the recovery of Canada’s endangered Resident Killer Whales. ”

The Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

“The Government is determined to build on the progress we’ve made under the Oceans Protection Plan over the last two years to protect the Northern and Southern Resident Killer Whales. We have had great success with a 90 per cent participation in the voluntarily slowdown of commercial ships in the Haro Strait to reduce noise impacts, and we will do all we can to bring this rate up to 100 per cent.”

The Honourable Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport

Quick facts

  • A recovery strategy is a planning document that identifies what needs to be done to arrest or reverse the decline of a species. The Recovery Strategy for Northern and Southern Resident Killer Whales was finalized in 2008 and identified threats, recovery objectives, and partial critical habitat for Northern and Southern Resident Killer Whales. Minor amendments were made to the document in 2011 to clarify the attributes of the critical habitat. The current proposed Amended Recovery Strategy proposes to update the identification of critical habitat for Resident Killer Whales, based on new science advice.
  • A Critical Habitat Order focuses on protecting specific geographic locations and conditions necessary for the survival or recovery of the species, such as where they give birth, feed or raise their young – the critical habitat. Proposed activities in areas of designated critical habitat must be assessed on a case-by-case basis and may require an authorization before going ahead to ensure that they will not jeopardize the species. The Order prohibits destruction of critical habitat.
  • From June 12 to July 11, 2018, Fisheries and Oceans Canada conducted an external review of the amended Recovery Strategy for Resident Killer Whales in Canada, which included updates to the critical habitat section to identify two new areas proposed as critical habitat and to clarify the features, functions, and attributes of both existing and proposed critical habitat.
  • Feedback received during the external review process informed proposed amendments to the recovery strategy.
  • A key objective of this amendment is to identify these new areas of special importance as critical habitat, based on science advice.
  • Following finalization, legal protection for this newly identified critical habitat will be accomplished through a critical habitat order that triggers a prohibition against its destruction.
  • Under SARA, it is the destruction of critical habitat that is prohibited, activities themselves are not prohibited if they do not lead to the destruction of critical habitat.

Associated links