They are one of Canada’s most iconic species. And the federal government just announced significant new regulations to protect the remaining 75 southern resident killer whales.

Federal fisheries minister Jonathan Wilkinson said the orcas face three threats to their survival; vessel noise, pollution and a shortage of chinook salmon.

So beginning June first, the minimum distance ships have to stay from the whales is 400 metres.

There will also be three interim sanctuaries for the orcas where they are known to forage.

The three sanctuary areas are Swiftsure Bank, the waters off south Pender Island and south Saturna Island.

That’s where all vessel traffic will be prohibited, except for whale watching boats with special permits.

There is some limited catch-and-release of chinook salmon, but from July 31 to Oct. 31, all salmon fishing will be closed from Port Renfrew to Sheringham Point, and near Mayne, Pender and Saturna Islands.

Dan Kukat’s whale watching company, Springtide, is a member of the Pacific Whale Watching Association.  He said the Association worked with Ottawa on the measures announced today.

“All of these measures today, these conservation measures announced today all are there to assist the southern resident killer whales, and providing additional prey availability and providing opening their ability to hunt and consume them and make it easier to do them to do that,” Kukat said.

Ottawa is trying to reduce vessel noise by slowing ships down that travel in the same waters, and reduce competition for food.

Mary Griffin