Compliance of small vessels to minimum distance regulations for humpback and killer whales in the Salish Sea

Molly D. Fraser, Lauren H. McWhinnie, Rosaline R. Canessa, Chris T. Darimont

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
52 Downloads (Pure)


To support optimal monitoring and enforcement investment, management aimed at minimizing disturbance to wildlife requires an understanding of how regulatory compliance might vary spatially as well as across species and human-user groups. In the Salish Sea, humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) and two ecotypes (southern resident and Bigg's) of killer whales (Orcinus orca) now interact with a large and growing number of small commercial and recreational vessels that partake in whale watching. Those vessels often approach close to cetaceans and thus pose risk via collision, marine noise and pollution, exposure to which may result in disturbance, injury and death. The primary management tool for mitigating impacts is minimum distance regulations. Compliance, however, is poorly understood. We examined commercial and recreational small vessel compliance with viewing distances across two seasons (June–September 2018 and 2019) in over ≈404 h of on-water observation. Overall vessel compliance was nearly 80%, but several distinct patterns emerged. Recreational boats were significantly more likely to violate distance regulations and boaters were more likely to be non-compliant around killer whales. Compliance did not vary with day of week or time of day. Spatially, non-compliance was concentrated in waters closer to coastal communities. Collectively, these patterns suggest that optimal enforcement could be targeted to identify areas of high non-compliance, especially for killer whales, with effort spread across days and times. Finally, we discuss how investments in education could target recreational boaters at a time when multiple and interacting stressors are accumulating in the Salish Sea.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104171
JournalMarine Policy
Early online date8 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


  • Conservation tools
  • Ecotourism
  • Marine mammals
  • Regulations
  • Vessel management measures
  • Whale watching

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • General Environmental Science
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Law


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