VANCOUVER – Conservation groups are calling for “urgent, enforceable action” to protect endangered orcas after federal ministers failed to recommend emergency protections by a March 1 deadline.
“We’ve been informed that Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Dominic LeBlanc and Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna are not prepared to make a decision about a recommendation at this time, but that their departments are considering measures to address the threats to the whales,” Ecojustice lawyer Dyna Tuytel said. “We look forward to learning more about potential measures, but we maintain that an emergency order is the appropriate tool for the ministers to use to protect the Southern Residents. We will continue to communicate this to the ministers.”
Ecojustice sent a petition to the ministers on Jan. 30, on behalf of David Suzuki Foundation, Georgia Strait Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council, Raincoast Conservation Foundation and World Wildlife Fund Canada.
In the petition, the groups called on the ministers to recommend an emergency order under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) to protect the Southern Resident killer whales, and set a 30-day timeline for the ministers to respond.
That period closed on Thursday.
“Our groups requested that the ministers indicate within 30 days whether they would recommend an emergency order to reduce threats to Southern Resident killer whales,” Raincoast Conservation Foundation Wild Salmon Program Director Misty MacDuffee said. “That deadline came and went yesterday, leaving us — and the whales — still waiting for signs the federal government is serious about protection under the Species at Risk Act.”
Located under Section 80 of SARA, emergency orders empower the government to take a broad range of actions to protect a species and its habitat when they face imminent threats to their survival and recovery.
“The Southern Residents are in a critical situation,” Jeffery Young, Senior Science and Policy Analyst at David Suzuki Foundation said. “Stocks of Chinook salmon, their preferred food source, are dwindling and disturbance from vessels is further impeding their ability to find food. This is exactly the type of urgent situation that an emergency order is designed to address.”
With the fishing season fast approaching, the groups are emphasizing the urgent need to put protections in place as soon as possible. They continue to call for an emergency order that includes establishing priority feeding refuges that restrict fishing and whale watching activities, changes to fisheries management, and implementing speed reductions for commercial traffic, among other measures.
“These orcas can’t wait,” Georgia Strait Alliance Executive Director Christianne Wilhelmson said. “The Southern Residents cannot survive on half-measures and unfulfilled commitments. We need urgent, enforceable action to address the threats to their immediate and long-term survival.”
“Throughout the Pacific Northwest, few wildlife species are as iconic as the resident killer whales. These orcas don’t distinguish between international borders — and neither do threats to their immediate and long-term survival,” Michael Jasny, Director of Marine Mammal Protection at the U.S.-based NRDC said. “That’s why the Canadian government must move to protect the Southern Residents with an emergency order as soon as possible.”
Megan Leslie, President and CEO of WWF-Canada, added:
“With only 76 Southern Residents remaining, these orcas are already on the tipping point of extinction. The government cannot afford to stall any longer if it wants to save this iconic population.”
Southern Resident killer whales are a genetically and culturally distinct population of salmon-eating whales that rely on the transboundary waters of the Salish Sea, a region that includes the Juan de Fuca Strait, Georgia Strait and Puget Sound.