Are You Familiar with New Whale Protection Rules?

Fisheries and Oceans Minister Jonathan Wilkinson announced this past Friday the latest recovery measures for the endangered southern resident killer whales that call British Columbia’s coast home. Only 75 orcas are left, and they continue to face serious threats, including noise from ships and boats. Underwater noise and physical disturbance adversely affects the whales as they heavily rely on sound so they can forage, navigate, and communicate. (Read more here.)

“We are at a crossroads. The impacts of climate change, combined with habitat loss associated with human activity over the past several decades, as resulted in ecosystem degradation here in Canada and around the world,” Wilkinson said at a news conference.

“Our government is taking action to protect and enhance biodiversity. This is critical for the health of the planet and ultimately for the health of the human population.”

Ships must steer clear of killer whales by 400 meters while commercial whale watchers are permitted to view whales, other than the southern resident orcas, from 200 meters away. The rules take effect June 1, 2019.

Other protective measures include eliminating all vessel traffic at popular feeding grounds for whales, including Swiftsure Bank (located off southwestern Vancouver Island) and near Pender and Saturna Gulf Islands. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is also asking all ships to turn off echo sounders when not in use and kill engines when within 400 meters of killer whales. They’re also asking all ships to slow down within a one-kilometer radius of the southern resident orcas.

Enforcement will come from fisheries officers, Transport Canada (by way of aerial surveillance), Parks Canada, and the Canadian Coast Guard.

The Liberal government launched the $167-million Whales Initiative and announced a further investment of $61.5 million over five years to address threats to the southern resident orcas. This is in addition to the $1.5-billion Oceans Protection Plan (which also includes implementing measures to support habitat protection and restoration of Chinook salmon populations). This latter plan was announced in 2016. That being said, shortly after, the government announced approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline which would increase tanker traffic seven-fold in the Burrard Inlet in Vancouver.

After humans, killer whales are the most socially and ecologically complex species on the planet. They typically travel in close-knit family units called pods and even pass on cultural traditions down generations, just like humans.

If you are a boater, make yourself familiar with the Be Whale Wise Guidelines. Even if you are not a boater, you can still help by:

  • Eating sustainable seafood. Choose Ocean Wise Sustainable Seafood wherever possible.

  • Dispose of waste responsibly. What goes down your drain eventually ends up in the ocean. Dispose of hazardous waste responsibly (there are lots of depots). Always reduce, reuse, and recycle.

  • Get involved by learning the facts and being involved with local projects such as the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup. Even the small action of picking up garbage (including cigarette butts!) when you go for a walk, can amount to a big help.

  • Donate if you can. Support research and conservation by donating to the Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program which raises money for conservation-oriented research on wild killer whale populations in B.C. along with other conservation programs. Making donations in children and other’s names makes for a wonderful gift.

Via Ocean Wise Research