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Orca Whales

Act Responsibly

Seeing killer whales and other marine wildlife in their natural environment can be a thrilling experience.

In our excitement, we sometimes forget that our presence has an effect on wildlife and their habitat. Just like us, marine animals need space to find food, choose mates, raise young, socialize, and rest.

When we get too close, approach too fast, or make too much noise, we may be disrupting these activities and causing the animals unnecessary stress. In some cases, we may be threatening their lives.

This information is intended to assist you in interacting properly with marine life. Set an example for others—assist law enforcement and help protect our spectacular marine resources by reporting violators.

Why do we need guidelines?

The diversity and complexity of marine life in the coastal waters off British Columbia and Washington are truly extraordinary.

It is a fragile world. Pollution, global climate change, and other impacts are taking their toll at all levels of the coastal food web. Many species of marine wildlife, such as the endangered southern resident killer whales, are showing signs of vulnerability.

Meanwhile, vessel traffic in our waters is steadily increasing, placing added pressures on marine animals and their habitats.

We need to minimize our impact. These guidelines are designed to help you enjoy your wildlife encounter and reduce the risk of disturbing marine wildlife.

Killer Whale Viewing Guidelines

  1. BE CAUTIOUS and COURTEOUS. Approach areas of known or suspected marine wildlife activity with extreme caution. Look in all directions before planning your approach or departure.
  2. SLOW DOWN. Reduce speed to less than 7 knots when within 400 meters/yards of the nearest whale. Avoid abrupt course changes.
  3. KEEP CLEAR. Under the authority of Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) vessels are prohibited from parking in the path of killer whales and from approaching killer whales within 200 meters/yards.
  4. DO NOT APPROACH whales from the front or from behind. Always approach and leave whales from the side, moving in a direction parallel to the direction of the whales.
  5. DO NOT APPROACH or position your vessel closer than 200 meters/yards to any whale.
  6. If your vessel is not in compliance with the 200 meters/yards approach guidelines (#5), place engine in neutral and ALLOW WHALES TO PASS.
  7. STAY ON THE OFFSHORE SIDE of the whales when they are traveling close to shore.
  8. LIMIT YOUR VIEWING TIME to a recommended maximum of 30 minutes. This will minimize the cumulative impact of many vessels and give consideration to other viewers.
  9. DO NOT swim with, touch, or feed marine wildlife.
Whale distance chart

The Laws

Regulations of Canada, the U.S., and Washington State prohibit the harassment and disturbance of killer whales and other marine mammals. Many species are listed as threatened or endangered and therefore are subject to additional protections under the Endangered Species Act (U.S.) and the Species at Risk Act (Canada).

In Washington State, it is unlawful to:

  • Approach within 200 yards of killer whales while on board a vessel.
  • Intercept a killer whale by allowing a vessel or other craft in the path and within 200 yards of a killer whale.
  • Fail to disengage a vessel's transmission immediately when within 200 yards of a killer whale.
  • Harass any marine mammal.

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What is a disturbance?

A disturbance is when we interfere with an animal's ability to hunt, feed, communicate, socialize, rest, breed, or care for its young. These are critical processes, necessary for healthy marine wildlife populations.

Report Violators


Call NOAA Fisheries Office for Law Enforcement at 1-800-853-1964



Call Fisheries and Oceans Canada at 1-800-465-4336


Local law enforcement, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and NOAA Fisheries Office for Law Enforcement are dedicated to the enforcement of state and federal laws that protect and conserve our nation's living marine resources and their natural habitat.

Local law enforcement, Washington Fish and Wildlife officers, and NOAA Fisheries special agents have specified authority to enforce numerous treaties related to the conservation and protection of marine resources.

Information provided by NOAA Fisheries Office for Law Enforcement