killer whales
J50 and family (J16s), September 3, 2018 (photograph by Dave Ellifrit)

The Southern Resident Killer Whale is a Vancouver Island treasure, and today the federal government announced that it is taking further action to help protect this critically endangered animal.

According to Fisheries and Oceans, only about 74 killer whales remain and are considered critically endangered.

Threats to the orcas’ survival include acoustic noise and physical disturbances from vessels, pollution and contaminants in the water, and a shortage of prey (especially Chinook salmon).

“The survival and recovery of the Southern Resident Killer Whale is important to Canadians and we are taking action,” said Marc Garneau, Canada’s Minister of Transport in a news release.

“The Government of Canada has taken concrete steps to support the recovery of this iconic species with more to come.”

Specific plans to protect the marine mammals include:

  • Identifying and protecting new habitat areas and continuing work on orca sanctuaries within critical whale habitats.
  • Enhancing regulatory control of five major organic pollutants to limit the contaminants impacting these whales.
  • Expanding vessel slowdowns to reduce underwater noise
  • Creating Noise Management Plans and formalizing voluntary measures with the marine industry and ferry operators.
  • Creating measures to protect and revitalize Chinook salmon stocks (that are important Orca prey)
  • Expanding current vessel monitoring systems, like the Ocean Wise “Whale Report Alert System” to create real-time ocean data and avoid whale encounters.

After today, Fisheries and Oceans Canada will actively review the effectiveness of these new steps, and will watch for overall compliance.

“As we continue to understand how we can reduce the impacts of human-caused threats, we will continue to adapt our actions to respond to new information to ensure we are contributing to the successful recovery of all endangered whale populations,” said Garneau.

In total, the federal government has allocated $167 million of the country’s 2018 budget to protect whale populations.

In October, Victorians held a 17-day vigil for a grieving orca mother who carried her dead calf for 17 days across the Salish Sea. Many of the suggestions the activists made during the vigil are included in the government’s recently announced steps.

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