The Southern Resident population has dwindled to just 74 individuals and extensive research shows that the population is at high risk of extinction if immediate actions are not taken to address the threats that face them.
Georgia Strait Alliance along with four other conservation organizations—all represented by Ecojustice—launched a lawsuit in the Federal Court that seeks to protect Southern Resident killer whales. Why? Because according to the Species at Risk Act, an emergency order should be issued when the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, and the Minister of Environment and Climate Change hold the opinion that a species faces imminent threats to its survival or recovery.
Former Minister LeBlanc and Minister McKenna acknowledged four months ago that orcas do face these imminent threats.
Our lawsuit asks the Court to compel Ottawa to issue an emergency order because time is running out:
- There have been no successful births in three years
- They are showing signs of emaciation
- There are fewer sightings of them in critical habitat
Orcas are an apex predator, meaning they are at the top of the food chain. If we were to lose this species, the impacts would reverberate throughout the Salish Sea ecosystem. There would also be negative consequences on our coastal communities and economies that depend on healthy marine environments.
Keeping the public informed and creating opportunities for citizens to be involved is also a key component in our fight to save the iconic Southern Residents that are so important to people of the west coast and the world.
Stay up to date about the Southern Residents and ways you can get involved:
You can help right now by making a donation! The support of individuals like you helps us to be responsive and push for the immediate action needed to bring the orcas back from the brink of extinction.
The endangered Southern Resident killer whales are a genetically distinct population of orcas that live off the Pacific Northwest coast, with the habitat critical to their survival found in the Salish Sea (southern part of Georgia Strait and in parts of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound). This population is made up of 3 pods known as the J, K and L pods. Each pod consists of multiple related matrilines and is led by one or more matriarchs.
As of late Spring 2018, the Southern Resident killer whales numbered just 74 individuals.
J-pod: 22 whales
K-Pod: 18 whales
L-Pod: 34 whales
The population has experienced the death of 9 whales in just 18 months between 2016 and 2017, and many pregnancies during this time have resulted in pre-term miscarriages, stillborn calves, or deaths shortly after being born, with no successful births since 2015. Research conducted by Wasser et al. between 2008 and 2014 revealed that up to 69% of all detectable pregnancies were unsuccessful amongst Southern Residents. Low abundance of available Chinook salmon has been determined to be an important factor in late pregnancy failure.
Out of the so-called “baby boom” of 2014-2015, three of the nine calves have died along with two of the mothers. Studies of the whales’ physical condition using drones showed that a majority of the Southern Residents appear very thin and are suffering from malnutrition. Their pods are fragmenting because there is not enough Chinook salmon to eat. They are starving to death right before our eyes, yet the federal government has taken no immediate action to address the crisis of this food shortage or the threats of noise pollution, vessel disturbance or toxic contamination, which exacerbate the threat of low food availability.
Southern Resident orcas were listed as endangered under the federal Species at Risk Act in 2003
Since 2003, after much foot-dragging and successful legal action by GSA and our allies, the government released the Recovery Plan in 2008 with a revision in 2011 – with a stronger definition of ‘critical habitat’ – and the Action Plan in 2017. Both documents were released well after DFO’s mandated deadlines.
Stay informed about actions you can take and information about the protection and recovery of the iconic southern resident orca population.