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Watching marine wildlife

To report a marine mammal disturbance or harassment

Please visit Report a Sighting or Incident.

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Watching whales and other marine mammals in their natural surroundings helps us to better appreciate these beautiful animals. When humans get too close to wildlife in their habitat, we risk disturbing and even harming them. There are laws and guidelines about marine mammals to protect their well-being and yours.

In Canada, it’s against the law to disturb a marine mammal. You can’t:

  • feed, swim or interact with a marine mammal
  • move a marine mammal (or entice/cause it to move)
  • separate a marine mammal from its group or go between it and a calf
  • trap a marine mammal or a group between a vessel and the shore, or between a vessel and other vessels
  • tag or mark a marine mammal
Infographic: If you see tail, fin or spray – Stay far enough away.

Infographic: If you see tail, fin or spray – Stay far enough away.

Infographic: How far is 200 metres?

Infographic: How far is 100 metres?

Infographic: How far is 200 metres?

Infographic: How far is 200 metres?

Infographic: How far is 400 metres?

Infographic: How far is 400 metres?

Laws and regulations

Canada’s laws and regulations help ensure whales and marine mammals can still be enjoyed, but at a safe distance. Approaching marine mammals too quickly, coming too close or making too much noise can disturb, stress or even harm these wonderful creatures who call our waters home.

Species at Risk Act

The Species at Risk Act (SARA) is part of the Government’s commitment to keep Canadian wildlife species from becoming extinct and take the necessary actions for their recovery. It provides for the legal protection of wildlife species and the conservation of their biological diversity.

Marine Mammal Regulations

Infographic: Canada's Marine Mammal Regulations.

Infographic: Canada's Marine Mammal Regulations.

All marine mammals are subject to the provisions of the Marine Mammal Regulations under the Fisheries Act. The Government of Canada amended the Marine Mammal Regulations in 2018 to provide greater protection for marine mammals including Canada’s at-risk whales.

Approach distances

Keeping a minimum distance is the law. Getting too close could result in charges under the Fisheries Act, with fines up to $100,000.

Canadian waters in general

The distance requirement is greater for certain marine mammals because of the threats they already face. The minimum approach distances below are based on the best available science.

Killer whales in British Columbia and the Pacific Ocean

*Under the Canada Shipping Act

Narrow Churchill and Seal River areas

St. Lawrence estuary

Video: Approach distances for marine mammals in the St. Lawrence estuary.

Video: Approach distances for marine mammals in the St. Lawrence estuary.

Saguenay St. Lawrence Marine Park and the Saguenay River*

*Under the Marine Activities in the Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park Regulations

Viewing marine mammals from the air

The noise and presence of aircraft (including drones) can disturb wildlife both in the water or on land.

When an aircraft is being operated at an altitude of less than 304.8 metres (1,000 feet) within a radius of one-half nautical mile from a marine mammal, it cannot perform a flight manoeuvre. A flight manoeuvre includes taking-off, landing or altering the course or altitude of the aircraft. This is to prohibit the purpose of bringing the aircraft closer to the marine mammal or otherwise disturbing it.

Drones are discouraged for viewing marine mammals unless appropriate permits are obtained. For more information on licensing and permitting, please visit:Application instructions for the authorization of marine mammal disturbance.

How to avoid disturbing marine mammals

In addition to keeping your distance (as per the laws and regulations), boaters, harvesters and paddlers are encouraged to follow the voluntary guidelines when in the presence of whales and other marine mammals.

For their safety and yours:

When watching whales

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.

Seals, sea lions and walruses

When you encounter seals, sea lions or walruses:

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 should not be disturbed.

For more information on the best ways to help whales and all marine mammals while on the water,  please visit

Related links

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