Petitioning Canada to Save Iconic Whales

Beam Reach

Today NRDC, together with our Canadian partners, petitioned the Trudeau government for emergency action in the case of southern resident killer whales.

Few wildlife species are as iconic as the resident killer whales that inhabit the Salish Sea, off Washington State and British Columbia. They are revered in the culture of the region’s First Nations, and beloved throughout the Pacific Northwest by people who know them less as anonymous wildlife than as individuals. They are also critically endangered. As I’ve written before, a lack of food caused by our damming of rivers and depletion of salmon stocks has compromised the whales’ ability to produce new calves, and we’ve made their foraging still more difficult by flooding their waters with noise. The southern residents have dwindled now to 76 individual whales, the lowest number seen in three decades. Many believe they’ve entered an extinction spiral.

Under the Species at Risk Act, the Canadian federal government has remarkably broad authority to save endangered animals that face “an imminent threat to [their] survival or recovery.” The Act’s section 80 empowers the government to issue an emergency order, “requiring the doing of things” that protect the species and its critical habitat and “prohibiting activities” that may harm them. Given the plight of the southern residents, our groups have petitioned for that emergency order—which would be the first ever issued for an ocean species.

The petition calls on the Canadian government to take a number of actions aimed at the whales’ recovery. These actions include:

  1. Ensuring prey availability through the creation of feeding refuges that are closed to commercial and recreational salmon fishing.
  2. Restricting Chinook salmon fisheries throughout the region to enable Chinook salmon populations (the whales’ main food source) to recover.
  3. Prohibiting commercial and recreational whale-watching on Southern Resident killer whales in the feeding refuges at relevant times of year (May 1 through November 30).
  4. Outside of the refuges, establishing and enforcing a 200-meter buffer between all vessels and southern residents, as well as speed restrictions for commercial and recreational whale-watching vessels.
  5. Instituting measures to reduce noise and disturbance from commercial ships traveling near the refuges. Key actions include imposing speed limits, shifting traffic away from feeding refuges, and making vessels quieter.
  6. Taking steps to limit the cumulative effects of vessel traffic.

When Prime Minister Trudeau, who spent some of his formative years in British Columbia, was interviewed on a Victoria dock last summer, he said he was always looking for ways to “make the existing situation better for those vulnerable marine mammals.” Here you go, Mr. Prime Minister.

The petition was filed by the David Suzuki Foundation, Georgia Strait Alliance, NRDC, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, and WWF Canada.

About the Authors

Michael Jasny

Director, Marine Mammal Protection Project, Land & Wildlife program

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