Southern Resident Killer Whales under “imminent threat”
Vancouver, BC – The federal government announced last week that a report released under the Species at Risk Act has found the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales face imminent threats to both survival and recovery. This announcement confirms what many conservation groups have been arguing for years, that the future of this iconic species is dire, and urgent action is needed.
In response to these findings, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Dominic LeBlanc, and Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, also announced a 25%-35% reduction in Chinook fishery removals and a $9.5 million investment in restoring habitat for Chinook salmon. Chinook are the primary food source for Southern Resident Killer Whales, and as wild Chinook populations have declined the whales who depend on them are at serious risk of malnutrition and starvation.
Conservation groups are celebrating these much needed first steps in protecting the Southern Resident Killer Whales, but argue that much more is needed.
“The recognition of the urgent critical state of this population is a long overdue step in finally getting the needed and urgent protection these whales require to remain an important part of the Salish Sea for generations to come,” said Christianne Wilhelmson, Executive Director of Georgia Strait Alliance. “Action to ensure orcas’ share of Chinook salmon is available to them and enabling more Chinook to return to spawning grounds are important actions, and we look forward to hearing more from the government related to other threats to this species.”
The government’s announcement indicates that additional conservation measures to protect the Southern Resident Killer Whales will be announced soon. Ross Jameson, Ocean Conservation Coordinator with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s BC Chapter (CPAWS-BC), emphasizes that these additional measures are essential to protecting this endangered species and the Salish Sea as a whole.
“While implementing these fishing closures and investing in habitat restoration are exciting steps, the forthcoming conservation measures need to also address the threats of vessel disturbance, pollution, and degradation of critical habitat that are contributing to the decline of these remarkable animals,” said Jameson. “We hope that the additional short- and long-term measures the federal government has promised will address the numerous threats facing the Southern Resident Killer Whales.”
Jameson also argues that the best way to fully protect the Southern Resident Killer Whales is to protect their critical habitat: “We have been working with Parks Canada for decades to create a marine protected area in the Southern Strait of Georgia that would protect the home of the orcas. Yesterday’s announcement was a good first step, but creating a National Marine Conservation Area Reserve in the Southern Strait of Georgia would provide the necessary protection.”
Southern Resident Killer Whales are listed as endangered in both Canada and the U.S., with only 76 individuals remaining. Southern Resident Killer whales are one of more than 125 endangered marine species in the Salish Sea. Without substantial and rapid action, there is a high risk of extinction for the iconic whales.
Christianne Wilhelmson, Executive Director, Georgia Strait Alliance
Ross Jameson, Ocean Conservation Coordinator, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society BC Chapter (CPAWS-BC)
Georgia Strait Alliance
Formed in 1990, Georgia Strait Alliance is the only conservation group whose mission is focused on working to protect and restore the marine environment and promote the sustainability of Georgia Strait, its adjoining waters and communities: www.georgiastrait.org
Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS)
The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society BC Chapter (CPAWS-BC) is Canada’s only nationwide charity dedicated solely to the protection of our public land and water, and ensuring our parks are managed to protect the nature within them. The BC chapter of CPAWS focuses on protecting the irreplaceable wilderness areas in BC. For more information visit www.cpawsbc.org