Marine park regulations

Great respect for great whales

A set of directives exists to regulate whale-watching activities in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park. Specifically, these guidelines are entitled Marine Activities in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park Regulations. The latter aim to better protect whales from disturbance caused by offshore observation activities. They are the culmination of a collaborative approach involving whale-watching cruise operators, the scientific community, and tourism, economic, and social stakeholders of the region, all working in collaboration with the Quebec and Canadian governments to develop them.

The regulations have two components: the first one stating permitting conditions, notably for tour company owners and research teams, while the second component stipulates the conduct to adopt in the presence of marine mammals.

In order to reduce the impact of organized observation activities on cetaceans, tour boat captains and sea kayak guides are required to complete a mandatory course and pass an annual test on the Regulations in order to be certified to operate in the park. The Regulations apply to all park users, whether they are captains, tourists, kayakers or researchers. Key points are outlined below.

Distance requirements

  • A boat shall not approach to within less than 200 metres of a cetacean, or less than 100 metres in the case of a permit holder. The minimum distance of 200 metres must be maintained in the event the animal is accompanied by a calf or is in a resting position.
  • A distance of at least 400 metres must be maintained between a watercraft and any marine mammal that is endangered (e.g. beluga and blue whale).
  • The operator of a vessel, notwithstanding human-powered craft such as canoes or kayaks, shall not remain stationary and shall navigate at a constant speed of no less than 5 knots and no more than 10 knots if they are less than one-half nautical mile (926 m) from a beluga. The purpose of this measure is to avoid disturbing belugas in their vital activities (feeding, resting, raising young, calving, etc.). In the half a marine mile zone, it is forbidden to  change direction repeatedly in order to avoid beluga whales, it is necessary to maintain a cap.

400 m must be maintained between kayaks and belugas © GREMM

Boat number limitation

  • A maximum of 10 observation boats are permitted within the same observation zone.
  • Whenever there are more than 4 boats in a 400-metre radius of a cetacean, these boats, regardless of whether they are permit holders or not, may not approach to within less than 200 metres.
  • If there are 5 boats or fewer, permitted vessels may advance past the 200-metre limit and approach to within 100 metres of a cetacean.
  • A boat may remain up to one hour in the observation zone and must wait at least one hour before returning to the same observation zone.

Temporary exclusion sectors

  • Park management may close access to certain areas during specific time periods. Before visiting the Marine Park, it is best to check whether warnings have been posted on the latter’s website.
  • From June 21 to September 21, the Sainte-Marguerite Bay is closed to navigation.

Other activities

  • Personal watercraft, hovercraft and towed water sports (water skiing, wakeboarding, tubing) are prohibited within park boundaries.
  • It is forbidden to enter the water to swim or interact with marine mammals in any way whatsoever.
  • It is forbidden to fly drones over the Marine Park.
  • Aircraft shall not fly over the Marine Park at altitudes of less than 2000 feet (610 metres); they shall not perform take-offs or water landings within the park unless authorized to do so.

Maximum speeds

  • The maximum permitted speed is 25 knots in the Marine Park and 15 knots in the entry to the Saguenay Fjord.
  • The maximum speed in an observation zone is 10 knots; an observation zone is a zone extending half a nautical mile around a boat in observation mode.
  • Between 400 and 200 metres from a cetacean (or between 400 and 100 metres, as the case may be), it is forbidden:
    • To operate the vessel at a speed greater than the minimum speed required to manoeuvre the vessel;
    • To stop or start the vessel, or change course, in a repetitive manner.
  • If a marine mammal (except a beluga) is suddenly spotted at a distance of less than 400 metres, the captain shall slow the boat down to the minimal speed necessary to operate the craft.

Duration of observation

  • In the case of permit holders, operators shall not remain between 200 and 100 metres from a cetacean:
    • For more than two periods of no more than 30 minutes in the course of an excursion;
    • More than once in the same observation zone (an observation zone is a zone extending half a nautical mile around a boat in observation mode).
  • A vessel shall not remain more than one hour in an observation zone.
  • A vessel may not re-enter the same observation zone until at least one hour has elapsed.

Limiting the number of boats and establishing maximum observation durations will help reduce the concentration of boats around the whales. This recommendation was made following a study on fin whale behaviour conducted by the GREMM in collaboration with Parks Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

In the event of a discrepancy, the text of the Regulations takes precedence over the information presented on this page.


To learn more:

Visit the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park website and familiarize yourself with the Marine Activities Regulations.


Most recently updated: October 2018