Canada’s recovery measures for endangered killer whales a positive step: conservation groups

Photo: Rachael Merrett-GSA. Orca spyhopping.

A coalition of six conservation groups commend the federal government’s new measures to support Southern Resident killer whale recovery. The measures are the boldest yet: greater whale-watching restrictions, expanded voluntary slow downs for international shipping and the creation of no-vessel zones in feeding areas. However, important feeding areas protected from fishing are smaller than last year’s areas, allowing less protection for whales and more areas for fishing.

The David Suzuki Foundation, Ecojustice, Georgia Strait Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council, Raincoast Conservation Foundation and WWF-Canada have been advocating for urgent and concrete actions since January 2018 when they petitioned the federal government to issue an emergency order under the Species At Risk Act. Given the plight of 75 remaining Southern Residents, these measures are a necessary step to help the endangered population survive.

Together with the Chinook conservation measures that the government announced last month, today’s news is a positive step and much needed by the whales to support their recovery. We will be following their roll out closely to ensure these measures are fully implemented with adequate monitoring and enforcement. Today’s measures must be joined by longer-term commitments to reduce overall Chinook harvest, restore habitat, stop pollution, and achieve targeted noise reductions throughout their critical habitat.

No-go zones in feeding areas: Tessa Danelesko, Species Protection Coordinator, Georgia Strait Alliance:
“Removing threats from areas where Southern Resident killer whales frequent to find prey, by using foraging areas and no-go zones, supports this endangered population by giving them the disturbance-free conditions they need to find sufficient food to eat. These measures are a step toward a healthier Salish Sea.”

Chinook salmon: Misty MacDuffee, Wild Salmon Program Director, Raincoast Conservation Foundation:
“Chinook salmon are key to killer whale recovery. DFO’s measures reduce competition with salmon fishing in some areas, and will begin rebuilding the endangered Chinook runs the whales need to feed on in the spring and early summer.”

Protecting salmon foraging areas: Jeffery Young, Senior Science and Policy Analyst, David Suzuki Foundation:
“Southern Resident orcas are in the Salish Sea to find and eat Chinook salmon. These measures will help these whales get the food they need to survive.”

Reducing noise from large vessels: Hussein Alidina, Lead Specialist Ocean Conservation, WWF Canada:
“The commercial vessel slowdown will help reduce overall noise exposure to southern residents and make it more viable for them to hunt salmon this year. We welcome this multi-year commitment by industry and government in the conservation agreement to undertake slowdowns. Significant and sustained reductions in noise levels from shipping will be needed to aid in the recovery of these whales.”

Restrictions on whale-watching: Michael Jasny, Director, Marine Mammal Protection, Natural Resources Defense Council:
“Bringing back salmon is paramount. But the restrictions on whale-watching announced today would give the whales the break they need from a constant parade of boats that has made it hard for them to feed.”

Biodiversity crisis and the law: Olivia French, lawyer, Ecojustice:
“The UN’s stark report on the world’s biodiversity crisis, released earlier this week, made it clear that governments around the world must take transformative action to prevent species collapse. Southern Resident killer whales are among the one million species at risk of extinction now. Ecojustice is encouraged by the suite of measures the federal government introduced today, especially where those measures are legally enforceable.”

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