Know Before you Go: Ethical Wildlife Viewing

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Captain John Lapp

The Webster dictionary defines ethical behavior as, ‘conforming to accepted standards of conduct’. When a wildlife tourism company claims to be ethical and responsible, what are those standards, who has set them and who is enforcing them?

There are laws in Canada that protect wildlife on land and in the water, fines and jail time can be used against individuals that break the law. It is not easy to find these laws, what exactly we are allowed to do and just how close are we allowed to get to different animals. Unfortunately, the majority of wildlife exist where there are few to no individuals enforcing these wildlife acts.

So, you ask: if these laws are not properly enforced, who is to say if one company is more ethical and responsible than another?

Where we view wildlife at Spirit Bear Lodge, it is protected, managed and enforced by Resource Stewardship; a subsidiary organization of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais Band. The territory has similar protection of land and wildlife that you would find in one of Canada’s Provincial or National Parks. Watchmen are in the area enforcing but we are in the Great Bear Rainforest. It is big, very big. Too much land, too few resources to properly enforce responsible tourism.


At Spirit Bear Lodge, our goal is to lead by example and meet and exceed wildlife standards set out by government and non government organizations.

With all our travel in the ocean we frequently view wildlife in the marine environment. Killer whale protection in Canada made world wide news with the urgency to protect an endangered population around Southern BC. With that news came strict new regulations put into place to further protect killer whales and other marine wildlife.

Currently the regulations state that no marine mammal can be approached closer than 100 meters, 200 meters for killer whales and all cetaceans with young and now 400 meters in southern resident killer whale habitat. Sea otters are considered endangered so they fall into another level of protection. With all these regulations set forth by national, provincial and regional governments, we can only hope that when enforcement is not present, that everyone respects these laws.

Marine Mammal Regulations

At Spirit Bear Lodge, our goal is to lead by example and meet and exceed wildlife standards set out by government and non government organizations. We comply to the standards that have been set out by the Kitasoo/Xai’xais, Resource Stewardship, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Commercial Bear Viewing Association. (

So what do all theses laws and regulations mean and are they really benefiting the wildlife?

What we know at SBL is that the future of this industry is dependent on us being both ethical and responsible when we are viewing wildlife. It goes beyond that; the wildlife need the proper space to go about what they are doing. As wildlife guides, we are ambassadors and educators and it is our voice that speaks for the animals and their needs. As we welcome visitors into these territories from Canada and around the world we want to set an example. We need to put the wildlife first.

A great guide is not one that gets you the closest to the wildlife, it is someone who can read wildlife behaviour and not comprise their well being. Over habituated wildlife is both dangerous and harmful to their survival. They don’t need us to survive, they need us to respect their space to survive.

We are lucky to view these animals in their natural habitat. It is truly an experience like no other. Remember it is their home and we are simply visiting. At SBL you will take great pictures and memories that will last a lifetime. We hope to provide that encounter you have dreamed about and please know it was done in an ethical and responsible way.