Govt of Canada takes action to protect West Coast killer whales

killer whales
Southern resident killer whales off the west coast of British Columbia face significant threats to their survival including lack of prey, noise and physical disturbance from marine vessels as well as contaminants in the water.  Menno67 photo via Dreamstime.

Southern resident killer whales off the west coast of British Columbia face significant threats to their survival including lack of prey, noise and physical disturbance from marine vessels as well as contaminants in the water.  Menno67 photo via Dreamstime.

Trudeau government pledges additional $61.5 million to protect killer whales

New measures to protect the Southern Resident Killer Whale were announced Wednesday by the Canadian government as part of the $1.4 billion Oceans Protection Plan.

The Southern Resident Killer Whale is an iconic species that faces significant threats to its survival and recovery. Threats include lack of availability of prey (mainly Chinook salmon), acoustic (noise) and physical disturbance from marine vessels, and contaminants in the water.

An additional $61.5 million is being committed to implement the new measures, according to a government press release, and additional measures are planned to be in place by the time the whales usually return to the Salish Sea in greater numbers in late spring.

New measures include:

  • continuing to identify and protect new areas of habitat necessary for survival or recovery of the Southern Resident Killer Whale Population;
  • introducing measures aimed at protecting and recovering Chinook salmon stocks that are significant for the Southern Resident Killer Whales;
  • expanding the vessel slowdowns to further reduce underwater noise;
  • developing agreements with ferry operators and other marine industry partners to formalize current voluntary measures to reduce noise;
  • expanding vessel monitoring systems and capabilities to develop real-time ability to avoid whale encounters and providing funding to Ocean Wise for the development and deployment of a Whale Report Alert System;
  • launching consultation with marine industry on development and implementation of noise management plans;
  • advancing feasibility work on one or more South Resident Killer Whale sanctuaries within sub-areas of critical habitat the whales use for foraging; and
  • enhancing regulatory control of five key organic pollutants, including two flame retardants to lessen contaminants impacting these whales.

Canadians recognize the urgency of addressing key threats to these iconic creatures, which is why the Government of Canada, over the past two years, has taken important steps to protect and recover the Southern Resident Killer Whale population, according to Jonathan Wilkinson, minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

“We know that the number of Southern Resident Killer Whales has been declining and action is required to protect this iconic species. We’ve taken considerable action to begin to address these issues over the past two years. However, additional actions are required to help safeguard this whale population for future generations,” he said.

In 2016 the Oceans Protection Plan contained several measures, including funding to support the increased use of hydrophones and support contaminant monitoring program that address threats to the whales.

In Budget 2018 the Government of Canada introduced a $167 million “Whales Initiative,” which contained several additional measures that aimed to address all three key threats to the species. These measures included:

  • a reduction in Chinook harvest levels and fisheries closures in areas of Southern Resident Killer Whales critical habitat;
  • adjustment to marine transportation – including trials to move traffic within the shipping lanes further away from key foraging areas and voluntary vessel slowdowns to reduce shipping-related noise as well as putting in place a buffer zone/distance limit for whale watching and recreational boats; and
  • action on contaminants – including investing in additional research.

The critical habitat of Southern Resident Killer Whale is in both Canadian and U.S. territorial waters. Ottawa says it will coordinate closely with U.S. agencies in implementing and moving towards mandatory measures to reduce the impact of underwater vessel noise on Southern Resident Killer Whales.

Quick Facts

  • Earlier this year, the Government of Canada determined Southern Resident Killer Whales are facing imminent threats to their survival and recovery, requiring immediate intervention to help them survive.
  • Building on the historic $1.5 billion Oceans Protection Plan, the Government of Canada invested $167 million in Budget 2018 to protect key endangered whale populations.
  • As part of the process under the Species at Risk Act, the Government of Canada is currently accepting comments on adding a new area of Critical Habitat in the waters off the coast of Southwestern Vancouver Island, where these whales are known to socialize, feed, and raise their young.
  • We are proposing the establishment of a new area as Critical Habitat and protecting it with a Ministerial Critical Habitat Order under the Species at Risk Act for which we have been consulting with First Nations and other stakeholders over the past few months and ongoing.
  • Through the national Coastal Restoration Fund, the Government of Canada is providing $75 million in funding to support marine habitat restoration priorities and address threats to marine species located on Canada’s coasts and waterways. To date, a total of $14.9 million has been announced to support 11 projects across British Columbia. This work will help restore habitat for Chinook salmon, the preferred prey of the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale.
  • The Government of Canada recently amended the Marine Mammal Regulations to provide greater protection for marine mammals including Canada’s at-risk whales. As of this July, a minimum distance approach of 200 metre for all killer whale populations in all Canadian fisheries waters in the Pacific Ocean and British Columbia is now mandatory.
  • Earlier this week, the Government of Canada introduced in Parliament legislative amendments to the Canada Shipping Act to strengthen the authorities to put in place regulations to better protect marine ecosystems from the potential impacts of marine vessels, including the impacts of underwater noise on Southern Resident Killer Whales.

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