Feds Lose Round 1 of Battle to Protect Orca Habitat
January 26, 2009
Victoria, BC – The Federal Court has ruled that Sierra Club of Canada and Georgia Strait Alliance may join a recently filed lawsuit against the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, after DFO tried to block the two groups’ participation.
The lawsuit, filed by lawyers with Ecojustice, alleges that the federal government has unlawfully failed to issue an order under its own Species at Risk Act to protect critical killer whale habitat. Critical habitat is the habitat that is necessary for the survival or recovery of a species-at-risk.
“This is the first lawsuit ever of its kind in Canada,” said Sierra Club BC science advisor Dr. Colin Campbell. “We may be able to prevent extinction of the Southern Resident and Northern Resident killer whale populations by taking this last-resort action to ensure the protection of their critical habitat.”
In its written Order, the Court ruled that Sierra Club of Canada and the Georgia Strait Alliance have “a genuine interest in the subject matter” and the “relatively brief delay” in the groups joining the orca lawsuit was not a reason to bar them from participating.
“We want to see the federal government fulfil its obligation to designate and protect critical habitat for orcas and other endangered species,” said Christianne Wilhelmson, Managing Director of Georgia Strait Alliance. “Orcas already face the triple scourge of declining salmon stocks, physical and acoustic disturbances, and toxic contamination so without meaningful habitat protection, we have little hope of seeing this species recover.”
The Southern Resident orcas are among the most contaminated marine mammals in the world.
A team of Canadian and Washington scientists recently measured persistent organic pollution concentrations in Chinook salmon in order to better understand exposure to contamination in the orcas’ food supply. Published in this month’s edition of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, the scientists’ study found that the Southern resident orca population’s favourite food, Chinook salmon, was contaminated with PCBs, flame retardants and other persistent chemicals retained in body fat.
Other groups participating in the killer whale lawsuit are David Suzuki Foundation, Dogwood Initiative, Environmental Defence Canada, Greenpeace Canada, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Raincoast Conservation Society and Western Canada Wilderness Committee.
Dr. Colin Campbell, Sierra Club BC Science Advisor: (250) 361-6476
Christianne Wilhelmson, Managing Director, Georgia Strait Alliance: (604) 862-7579
Sarah Cox, Communications Director, Sierra Club BC: (250) 812-1762