Photo Banner: Harbour porpoise. (Credit: Ocean Wise) 

2020 Rating

2020 Rationale

An increase in large whale numbers and a decrease in small cetacean numbers has been reported. Much forward movement on actions has been taken.

2017 Rating

2017 Rationale

Dolphins, whales and porpoises have made a triumphant return to Howe Sound after a near 100-year absence, suggesting remediation efforts have been successful in combating the polluting effects of industrial activity. Citizen reporting continues to be a crucial tool in monitoring cetacean populations in the Sound. Still, compared to our impressions of historical abundance, cetacean numbers are low.

The following is an excerpt from the full updated article. Download the full 2020 article for all content and references.

Cetaceans: sightings on the rise

Authors: Jessica Scott, B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network Manager and Applied Research Biologist, Ocean Wise Research Institute

Lauren Dares, Coordinator, B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network, Ocean Wise Research Institute

Reviewer: Chad Nordstrom, Marine Mammal Biologist, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO)

Excerpt from 2020 article

Since 2016, reports of cetaceans to the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network (BCCSN) have continued to increase. In 2018, the BCCSN received 335 sighting reports from the Átl’ḵa7tsem/Txwnéwu7ts/Howe Sound area, submitted by 116 volunteer observers. Killer whales (Orcinus orca) were the most commonly reported large cetacean in 2018, with 190 reports submitted to the BCCSN.

Read the full article to see what else is happening.

Background: Humpback whale in Átl’ḵa7tsem/Txwnéwu7ts/Howe Sound. (Credit: Rhys Sharry)

What’s been done since 2017?

The table below reports on progress made on recommended actions from the previous 2017 article, where identified. Many of these require ongoing action.

2017 Action Action Taken
Individual and Organization Actions
Report cetacean sightings using the WhaleReport app, available for iOS and Android devices on the iTunes and Google Play stores. In addition to contributing to conservation-based research, sighting reports alert mariners of large commercial vessels to the presence of cetaceans in the area so they can take measures to reduce the risk of collision or disturbance (i.e., slowing down or altering their course). As of August 2019, over 1,500 alerts have been generated using sighting reports submitted via WhaleReport.
Government Action and Policy
Provide large-vessel captains with resources so they can safely transit waters when whales are in the area. The WhaleReport Alert System now effectively does this.
Legislate against the production and use of single-use plastic. Canada to ban single-use plastics and hold companies responsible for plastic waste as early as 2021.*
Legislate mandatory safe-distance for vessels from cetaceans. New regulations (2019):

• Boats must stay 400 m away from orcas or killer whales in Southern Resident Killer Whale critical habitat.

• Boats must stay 200 m away from killer whales in other B.C. waters.

• Boats must stay 100 m from all other cetaceans (e.g., humpback whales, harbor porpoises).

• Boats must stay out of certain sections of Swiftsure Bank, off the east coast of Saturna Island and southwest of North Pender Island. Visit for more information on regulations.

* Trudeau J. Canada to ban harmful single-use plastics and hold companies responsible for plastic waste [Internet]. Office of the Prime Minister. 2019. Available here.

What can you do?

A detailed overview of recommended actions relating to climate change is included in The path to zero carbon municipalities. In some cases, no progress was identified on previous recommended actions; these remain listed below.

action-individual Individual and Organization Actions:

    • When viewing cetaceans from a boat, follow the Be Whale Wise Guidelines to avoid disturbing or displacing them.
    • Purchase sustainable ocean wise seafood. In your business, ensure food sold or supplied is sustainable (if applicable).
    • Purchase products that do not contain harmful toxins such as Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).
    • Recycle and properly dispose of garbage to prevent marine debris that can be harmful if ingested, or cause entanglement. Ensure workplaces are equipped with proper disposal options.
    • Minimize the use of plastics, especially single-use plastics.

action-governmentGovernment Action and Policy:

    • Monitor pollutant levels, enforce and where necessary amend pollution regulations.
    • Monitor and when warranted restrict fishing to protect the prey resources of cetaceans in Átl’ḵa7tsem/ Txwnéwu7ts/Howe Sound.
    • Continue to update Species at Risk Act (SARA) reports on a regular basis to reflect current status of species.
    • Continue to aid and support population studies of Species At Risk, or potential Species At Risk.
    • Continue to support and facilitate growth of the Marine Mammal Response Network to ensure timely and safe incident responses coast-wide.
    • Increase public education regarding species of cetaceans, the risks they face, and how the public can help. Continue to support children and youth educational programs.
    • Support citizen science and grassroots initiatives related to cetacean conservation.
    • Empower local communities by ensuring they are educated on the proper actions to take in the event of an oil spill. Provide the required resources for communities to safely respond and assist in the event of a spill.
    • Facilitate the creation of ecosystem-based species management plans in order to help ensure a sustainable predator-prey balance.
Visit our sites: