Our Precious Whales

Whales are a big deal. So SeaLuxe is thrilled with the news Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced this past Friday that $167.4 million will go towards recovery of three whale species.

The targeted species include British Columbia’s resident southern killer whale population, the St. Lawrence Estuary beluga, and the North Atlantic right whale. There are fewer than 500 North Atlantic right whales remaining thanks to hunting in the 1750s – the slow-moving whales live close to shore making them easy pickings for whalers for their oil, meat, and bones. Now their main threat is entanglement in fishing gear (particularly lobster lines) and strikes with boats. If nothing is done to protect them, such as slowing down ships, using less-risky fishing gear, and protecting their feeding and mating habitats, it is feared these gentle giants of the sea will be extinct by 2040

As usual, human activities are to blame for the decline of the St. Lawrence Estuary beluga. The unique beluga species is threatened and is not recovering. The population is declining at a rapid rate due to incidences of cancer, parasitic infections, harmful algal blooms, and boat strikes. An estimated 900 belugas remain in the estuary of the St. Lawrence River in central Quebec. They have a fascinating history, having adopted their home in the river after the end of the Ice Age while most other belugas moved back to the far north. If you’re interested in learning more, check out documentary Call of the Baby Beluga.

In SeaLuxe’s province of BC, our resident killer whales are also on the decline. It may seem the black and white dolphins are just fine – they’re often spotted near humans, sometimes cruising by popular spots on the Gulf Islands or putting on a wild show for passengers on BC Ferries. It is estimated there are only 76 resident orcas left in our local waters – down from a high of 96 in 1993. Their survival is under critical threat due to lack of prey, underwater noise, and contaminants in their environment. Several conservation groups pressured government to take action to protect the whales as it is estimated they have a 50 per cent chance of extinction within the next century.

"Their time is running out and we're looking for concrete action to reduce threats, not just promises and not just more research," Misty MacDuffee, wild salmon program director for the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, told the CBC

Some of the measures announced Friday include reducing the fishery removal for Chinnock salmon by 25-35 per cent to increase food source availability, moving marine vessels away from foraging grounds and at least 200 meters away from the whales, as well as working with BC Ferries to reduce underwater engine noise. There is also the suggestion of measuring and tracking noise impacts of individual vessels. Conservation groups are also concerned increased tanker traffic associated with the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion project will devastate the local killer whale population.

To read more about whale conservation, click here.