Conservationists urge government to establish Marine Protected Areas to protect endangered whales

Vancouver, BC – According to the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), urgent measures need to be taken to protect Canada’s endangered whales. The establishment of marine protected areas that provide much needed protection from vessel noise and ship strikes, entanglement with fishing gear, pollution, and oil and gas activities are vital to our whales and other species’ survival.

This statement was in response to the announcement made today by Fisheries and Oceans Canada regarding the launch of Let’ This online engagement platform seeks input from Canadians about proposed recovery measures for three of Canada’s most endangered whale species: the North Atlantic right whale, the St. Lawrence Estuary beluga, and the southern resident killer whale.

“We welcome this opportunity to provide feedback to the government on this pressing issue and are hopeful that Canadians will see real action being taken to protect these whales as a result,” said Sabine Jessen, National Ocean Program Director at CPAWS. “We know that these whales face an array of threats and that marine protected areas that have strong protection measures are one of the most effective ways to address multiple simultaneous threats to species and ecosystems,” added Jessen.

The Laurentian Channel Marine Protected Area, the St. Lawrence Estuary Marine Protected Area, and the Southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Area, are three proposed marine protected areas (MPAs) that would offer these three species of endangered whales protection. “Quickly finishing these MPAs and ensuring that they meet high conservation standards would provide immediate protection for these whales, and would be a positive step towards reaching the government’s commitment to protect 10% of our ocean by 2020,” said Jessen.

“Establishing a comprehensive network of marine protected areas in each region that protects the various habitats that the whales use, and also the habitats on which their prey depend, will give our endangered whales the full protection they need to provide the best chance of recovery and a healthy future. This is something that CPAWS has long been pushing for DFO to get done,” adds Jessen.

Since June, 10 North Atlantic right whales have washed up dead, probably killed either from entanglement in fishing gear or by being struck by vessels. “There are only about 500 North Atlantic Right Whales left in the world, so each death is very concerning. We need quick and drastic action to prevent any more deaths,” said Alice De Swarte, Conservation and Policy Coordinator at CPAWS’ Québec chapter.  “We have long been pushing for a network of MPAs throughout the Gulf of St. Lawrence, including the proposed St. Lawrence Estuary MPA which would provide protection to the St. Lawrence beluga,” adds De Swarte.

This past June, the government released the draft regulations for the proposed Laurentian Channel Marine Protected Area, but the proposed regulations allow for oil and gas activity within the MPA. “The Laurentian Channel is an important corridor for the North Atlantic right whale and is deserving of the highest protection. Allowing oil and gas activities within this marine protected area would continue to put endangered North Atlantic right whales at risk,” said Jessen. “During the public consultation period the government has heard loud and clear from Canadians that oil and gas activities are not acceptable within marine protected areas” Jessen adds.

The recent deaths on Canada’s east coast are not isolated incidents. 2016 was a terrible year for BC’s southern resident killer whales with the death of 7 whales, including “Granny” the famous centenarian matriarch of J-pod. “With fewer than 80 southern resident killer whales left, it is imperative that we implement the proposed Southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Area to protect the home of the orca against multiple known threats including vessel noise, pollution, and loss of prey from declining salmon runs,” said Alexandra Barron, Ocean Conservation Manager at CPAWS BC Chapter. “The Southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Area was proposed 47 years ago. In the time we have been waiting for this area to be protected, we have seen the number of southern resident killer whales decline precipitously. We cannot afford another bad year,” adds Barron.

“Canada’s whales need urgent help, and we can’t deal with the problems they face one at a time. We were really pleased to see the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard commit to doing whatever it takes to protect Canada’s whales and our advice is that to protect our whales the government needs to establish more strongly protected MPAs, much more quickly,” said Jessen. “ We need to complete the existing sites and make sure that they are fully protected and we need to move beyond this site-by-site approach that can take decades, and establish strategic and comprehensive MPA networks that protect the whales, their habitat and their prey, ” Jessen adds.



Learn more about Let’s Talk Whales.