The following are some of the resources paddlers should keep in mind for correct behaviour when you encounter wildlife on the water.

BC Parks Wildlife Guidelines

Staying Safe in Bear Country:

Guidelines for watching marine mammals

BC Ministry of Environment

Staying safe around wildlife

Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO)

2019 management measures to protect Southern Resident killer whales

Watching marine wildlife

Killer whales in BC and the Pacific Ocean:

“A minimum approach distance of 200 metres applies for all killer whale populations in B.C. and the Pacific Ocean. In addition, a new 400 metres approach distance is mandatory for all killer whales in Southern Resident killer whale critical habitat. Exceptions may be authorized by the Minister of Transport.

Vessel operators will also be asked to turn off their echo sounders and turn engines to neutral idle, if safe to do so, when a whale is within 400 metres.”

Porpoises and dolphins

If dolphins or porpoises ride the bow wave of your boat, avoid sudden course changes. Hold course and speed or reduce speed gradually. Do not drive through groups of porpoises or dolphins.

Seals and sea lions

When you encounter seals or sea lions:

  • reduce boat speed, minimize wake, wash and noise, and then slowly pass without stopping
  • ‘wake’ is the disturbed water caused by the motion of a boat’s hull passing through the water
  • ‘wash’ is the disturbed water caused by the propeller or jet drive
  • avoid sudden changes of speed or direction
  • move away slowly at the first sign of disturbance or agitation. If the animal starts to stare, fidget or dive into the water, you are too close


Be cautious and quiet near haul-outs, especially during breeding and pupping seasons (generally May to September). Pupping season is when seals, sea lions and walrus give birth.

Beached seal pups

If you see a young seal that seems to be alone and in distress, keep your distance and your pets leashed, as its mother is probably nearby. Seals normally spend long hours out of the water resting and shouldn’t be disturbed.

Canada's Marine Mammal Regulations

  • 400 metres for all killer whales in Southern Resident Killer whale critical habitat* (June 1 – Oct. 31)
  • 200 metres for killer whales in B.C. and the Pacific Ocean.
  • Keeping a minimum of 100 metres away from most whales, dolphins, and porpoises, and keeping a minimum of 200 metres away if they are in resting position or with their calf.

Government of Canada

Regulations Amending the Marine Mammal Regulations: SOR/2018-126

Marine Mammal Regulations

Approach distance to marine mammals

Be Whale Wise

The laws in Canada:

  • Boats must stay 400 metres from orcas or killer whales in Southern Resident killer whales’ critical habitat.
  • Boats must stay 200 metres from killer whales in other BC waters.
  • Boats must stay 100 metres from all other cetaceans (e.g. humpback whales, gray whales).

Boats must stay out of certain sections of Swiftsure Bank, off the east coast of Saturna Island and south-west of North Pender Island.

The guidelines Canada:

  • Go slow (<7knots) within 1,000 metres of orcas.
  • Turn off fish finders and echo sounders if safe to do so.
  • Use Whale Warning Flag to warn fellow boaters to the presence of whales.

Parks Canada: Banff National Park

Where to watch wildlife and take pictures

“If you cause an animal to move, you are too close.”

BC Ministry of Environment Study (Trudy Chatwin)

Set-back Distances To Protect Nesting And Roosting Seabirds Off Vancouver Island From Boat Disturbance

My study demonstrated that a single kayak could approach closer to seabird roost and nest sites without an agitation response than a motor boat could. With the kayak at 40 m there were only 3-10% of birds agitated. Seabirds likely perceive a group of kayakers as a larger threat than a single kayak and kayakers generally travel in groups. I therefore expect that groups of kayaks would likely illicit a greater response at farther distances than seen in my data from a single kayak. Amato (1995) stressed that kayakers in California and the San Juan islands were very disturbing to seabirds as they were able to approach and land on islands that motorboats could not access. Burger et al. (2010) discuss the value of setting a single set-back distance that is easier to understand, remember and enforce. Therefore, although a single kayak could approach birds at closer range, I recommend a general single set-back distance based upon the motorboat agitation response threshold of 50 m. Kayakers should also be aware of approaching seabird roost and nest sites in a tangential manner, and then going along parallel to shore at the prescribed distance. The tangential approach is less threatening to birds than either a direct approach (Burger & Gochfeld, 1981) or a stealthy approach from behind rocks. If the Harlequin Duck and Brandt‟s Cormorant roost aggregate sites are provided the extra 20 m buffer and a strict no-landing policy is maintained then disturbance to seabirds from kayaks could virtually be eliminated. 

International resources

NOAA Fisheries

Marine Life Viewing Guidelines

Whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, and sea lions are also protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. These laws help protect marine mammals and sea turtles from harm, including having their natural behaviors interrupted by human actions.


Remain at least 100 yards away—about the length of a football field unless other rules apply. Federal law requires vessels to remain 100 yards away from humpback whales in Hawaii and Alaska waters, 200 yards from killer whales in Washington State inland waters, and 500 yards away from North Atlantic right whales anywhere in U.S. waters. 

Dolphins and Porpoises

Remain at least 50 yards away—about 1/2 a football field. In some locations, the minimum distance may be 100 yards—know before you go.

Seals and Sea Lions

For seals and sea lions in the water, or on shore, remain at least 50 yards away—about 1/2 a football field. This includes people and pets.

Viewing Marine Life

Human activity might result in:

  • Separation of mothers and their young.
  • Disruption of migratory patterns.
  • Disruption of social groups such as killer whale pods.
  • Disruption of resting activities by seals, sea lions, and sea turtles.
  • Interference in breeding and/or reproductive and rearing activities.

While viewing marine wildlife, your actions should not cause a change in an animal’s behavior. Individual animals’ reactions will vary, so carefully observe all animals in the vicinity. Assume that your action is a disturbance and cautiously leave the area if you observe any of the following unusual behaviors:

Whales, dolphins, and porpoises

  • Changes in swimming, such as rapid changes in direction or speed.
  • Escape tactics such as prolonged diving, underwater exhalation, underwater course changes, or rapid swimming at the surface.
  • A female attempting to shield a calf with her body or by her movements.
  • Surface displays like tail slapping or lateral tail swishing at the surface.

Seals and sea lions

  • Increased movements away from the disturbance; hurried entry into the water by many animals, or herd movement toward the water.
  • Increased vocalization, aggressive behavior by many animals towards the disturbance, and/or several individuals raising their heads simultaneously.
  • A mother leaving her pup.

When viewing seals or sea lions hauled out on land or ice:

  • Avoid making the animal(s) aware of your presence: keep noise down, stay hidden, and stay at least 50 yards downwind of any animals.
  • Pups are often left alone for up to 24 hours while the mother feeds. They are not abandoned and should not be disturbed.
  • Do not offer food to wild animals or discard fish or fish waste on the beach; it is illegal to feed any marine mammal.
  • Do not touch or swim with the animals.
  • Taking “selfies” with seals or sea lions from close distances is illegal.
  • Remember to keep your distance.

U.S. Laws

Endangered Species Act

Species At Risk Act

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