Conservationists call on minister to issue emergency order to save killer whales - InfoNews

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Conservationists call on minister to issue emergency order to save killer whales

A female resident orca whale breaches while swimming in Puget Sound near Bainbridge Island as seen from a federally permitted research vessel Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014. Several conservation groups say the federal government's failure to issue an emergency order reducing threats to endangered orcas off the B.C. coast ahead of fishing and whale-watching season could mean their extinction.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Elaine Thompson
March 02, 2018 - 1:10 PM

VANCOUVER - Several conservation groups say the federal government's failure to issue an emergency order reducing threats to endangered orcas off the B.C. coast ahead of fishing and whale-watching season could mean the species' extinction.

The organizations say Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna had not recommended an emergency order to cabinet by March 1, which could have seen priority feeding refuges established, fishing restricted and speed reductions for commercial vessels put in place for the season.

"Their time is running out and we're looking for concrete action to reduce threats, not just promises and not just more research," said Misty MacDuffee, wild salmon program director for the Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

MacDuffee said Friday the situation is critical for the remaining 76 southern resident killer whales, adding that they have up to a 50 per cent chance of disappearing in the next century. The population has declined from a high of 96 in 1993.

She gave the mapping of potential foraging refuges as an example of an action that is useless without also keeping recreational fishermen and whale watchers out of those zones.

"They can't just create a map and say, 'Here are the areas that are important, these are the key areas,' and then not do anything to reduce the threats that are occurring in those areas," MacDuffee said.

Raincoast, Ecojustice, the David Suzuki Foundation, Georgia Strait Alliance, Natural Resources Defence Council and World Wildlife Fund sent a petition on the issue to LeBlanc and McKenna on Jan. 30.

The Department of Fisheries and Ocean was not immediately able to comment on Friday, but it identified similar priorities in a report released last month that reviews the effectiveness of recovery efforts so far.

In the report, the department found that while some initiatives, like banning contaminants, have slowed the species' disappearance, they aren't not enough. No concrete measures are in effect that directly aim at reducing ship noise and improving prey availability, which would provide the best chance of positive progress in the near term, it said.

It is "critical" to focus on the orcas' key foraging areas, either by increasing the abundance of prey or reducing underwater noise so they can forage better, the report said. It should be a high priority in the immediate future to reduce competition from fishermen, as well as physical and acoustic disturbances. It also identified ship strikes as a new threat to the species.

The species is on a trajectory to disappear, unless further efforts are taken, the report said.

Research biologist Linda Nichol, who is one of the report's authors, said addressing some of the threats to southern resident killer whales requires international co-operation with the United States, as well as participation from many stakeholders — including the shipping industry, whale-watching industry and both commercial and sport fishermen.

"The types of management things we might want to try and look at to reduce noise and disturbance, increase prey availability for these animals, could influence different sectors of our society on both sides of the border," Nichol said.

On Friday, the Port of Vancouver released the interim results of its vessel slowdown trial. Early results confirm that underwater noise from the commercial vessels participating in the trial is reduced when they slow down.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2018
The Canadian Press

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