New federal recovery measures for killer whales

Wednesday, May 15, 2019
Miles Ritter, Flickr
Miles Ritter, Flickr

This week the federal government released the final plan for 2019 measures to protect southern resident killer whales. The measures are focused on addressing the main threats to the whales:

  • Limited availability of their prey
  • Physical and acoustic disturbance
  • Marine pollution

Below is a summary of the measures being introduced this summer to protect and recover the whales:

  1. No-go zones. Starting this summer three new areas (near Pender Island, Saturna Island and at Swiftsure Bank) will be off limits to all vessels in order to give the killer whales a sanctuary and a place to escape the noise and disturbances, not to mention areas where only they can fish.
    • Imagine constantly being surrounded constantly by sounds similar to a fire alarm. In the Salish Sea, that’s what it’s like for the killer whales who’re exposed continuously to loud vessels. Vessel noise also interferes with their echolocation making it harder for them to hunt. That’s how it was in the Salish Sea for southern resident killer whales; wherever they were, noisy vessels were likely to be around.
  2. Voluntary slowdowns for large vessels through the Haro Strait and Boundary Pass. Although we argue this should be mandatory, last year it had an encouraging participation rate of 88 per cent. Car carriers, cruise ships, container ships, tankers, bulkers, ferries and government vessels are all asked to reduce their speed to 11.5-14.5 knots (roughly 21-26 km/hr) depending on vessel type.
  3. New shipping routes will be explored that avoid key foraging areas.
  4. Area-based fishery closures for commercial and recreational salmon fisheries. Certain important foraging grounds within the Salish Sea will be temporarily closed for fishing from July 1 or August 1 (depending on the area) until October 31.
  5. All boats and vessels are required to stay 400 metres away from killer whales in the southern resident killer whale critical habitat.
  6. Did you know echo sounders (a kind of sonar) may be negatively impacting whales? Boaters are being asked to turn echo sounders and engines to neutral idle if a whale is within 400 metres (if it is safe to do so). 
  7. In order to decrease pollution of the marine environment and food web, amendments will be coming to restrict five chemicals and prohibit two harmful flame retardants. More research will be done to identify the sources these of contaminants and how they are entering the aquatic environment.

These measures come after consultations with First Nations, the public, stakeholders and communities. To view the federal government's announcement on the new measures click here.

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