New whale watching regulations came into effect Wednesday that proponents say will protect many marine mammal populations.

Beginning today, vessels must now stay a minimum distance from certain marine mammals:

  • 100 m for all whales, dolphins and porpoises
  • 200 m for all killer whale populations in B.C. and the Pacific Ocean
  • 200 m for all whales, dolphins and porpoises in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park
  • 400 m for threatened or endangered whales, dolphins and porpoises in the St. Lawrence Estuary
  • 50 m in parts of the Churchill Estuary
Officials say sea and air patrols will provide enforcement, though exact numbers have not yet been determined.

“It’s absolutely an effective tactic. It’s sort of similar to there’s a lot of cars on the road and far fewer police, but they are effective in controlling speeds when they make their presence known. It’s the same on the water,” said marine biologist Anna Hall.

The changes are being supported by many in the whale watching industry.

The Pacific Whale Watching Association says it will immediately update its guidelines.

There are concerns, however, that the new rules may make the experience less meaningful.

“Meaningful means not just being able to see and get a photograph of them but also to understand and see a little bit of the behaviour that’s occurring, because we want to use it as a teachable moment for our passengers,” said James Dale with Five Star Whale Watching.

Violators could face a fine of up to $500,000. The penalties could be more severe in the case of repeat offences.

Calvin To