Canadian Military Interferes with Killer Whale Recovery Strategy

Federal Government could face lawsuit over further delays

May 23, 2007

VANCOUVER, BC – After nearly a year of unlawful delays, the latest caused by the Canadian military, environmental groups issued a warning to Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) today to release the Recovery Strategy for BC’s famous resident killer whales, or face a lawsuit.

The Southern Resident Killer Whales are an endangered species under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA). Under SARA a team of marine scientists was tasked with creating a science-based plan that identifies habitat, conservation threats, and recovery recommendations. For the last year, DFO has blocked the release of the Team’s Recovery Strategy, which DFO was legally required to release by June 1, 2006.

Additionally, according to a Canadian military document, the Department of National Defence (DND) is trying to downplay and re-write scientists’ concerns over military sonar threats to killer whales in BC waters. The Canadian military conducts sonar testing in the whales’ habitat, often in joint operations with the US Navy.

“Even the military acknowledges that sonar threatens whales with harm,” said Christianne Wilhelmson of Georgia Strait Alliance. “The military must stop interfering with this science-based Recovery Strategy, and we call on the Canadian government to release it immediately.”

As an example of DND efforts to weaken the Recovery Strategy, it wants to remove the scientists’ recommendation that new laws to reduce injury to killer whales from sonar testing be considered. The military is arguing that Canadian and American naval vessels operating in Canadian waters should not be bound by sonar-specific laws.

“Military objectives should have no place in a killer whale recovery strategy,” said Gwen Barlee of the Wilderness Committee. “If battleships trump science we won’t be able to recover this species.”
“The Species at Risk Act requires Recovery Strategies to follow strict timelines to protect endangered species, to discourage bureaucrats from talking endlessly while a species faces extirpation,” said Lara Tessaro of Sierra Legal. “DFO delay risks not only the Killer Whales, but to many endangered marine mammals and fish.”

The environmental groups have sent DFO a letter, threatening to file a lawsuit if DFO does not release the Resident Killer Whale Recovery Strategy by June 4, 2007.

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For further information:

Christianne Wilhelmson, Program Coordinator,
Georgia Strait Alliance, (604) 633-0530

Gwen Barlee, Policy Director,
Wilderness Committee, 604-683-8220

Lara Tessaro, Staff Lawyer,
Sierra Legal, (604) 685-5618 ext.245