Beginning next month, British Columbia’s southern resident killer whales will be getting a little more room to manoeuvre.

On July 11, new federal rules requiring all vessels to stay at least 200 metres away from orcas will take effect. The rules are part of a $170 million commitment from the federal government to protect marine life, which also includes cutting back on Chinook salmon fishing, closing certain orca feeding grounds to fishing, and stepping-up monitoring of the effects of underwater noise.

Most whale watching operations have already voluntarily implemented the 200-metre limit in an effort to make their procedures align better with rules in the United States. In Canada, the limit has long been 100 metres, and it has been a guideline, not a requirement.

There are only about 78 southern resident killer whales in the Salish Sea, the series of waterways off the southern coast of B.C. and northern coast of Washington state that includes the straits of Georgia, Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound.

Scientific evidence shows noise from large ships and whale-watching tour boats is one of the biggest threats to the whales as it disturbs their ability to use sound to find food.