Southern Resident Killer Whales Contaminants Technical Working Group - 2022 recommended actions on contaminants
The decline of the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW) is linked to threats including noise and disturbance from boats, reduced availability of their preferred prey (Chinook salmon), and exposure to contaminants through their food and environment. To minimize disturbance from vessels and protect Chinook salmon, the Government of Canada has been implementing interim management measures every year since 2019.
The threat of contaminants is not mitigated through annual measures as the approach for this threat requires many longer-term objectives and goals. In 2018, the Contaminants Technical Working Group (TWG), which includes members from all levels of government, non-governmental organizations, and academia, was established to investigate the threat of contaminants. In alignment with the overarching Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s (DFO) Species at Risk Act (SARA) Recovery Strategy for Resident Killer Whales, the TWG has identified and prioritized contaminants of concern, identified contaminant sources, and developed a series of recommendations on how to best address this threat.
In 2020, the TWG developed a series of recommendations that included 4 areas of work:
- Developing and implementing further controls on contaminants
- Conducting research and monitoring
- Sharing data and information
- Undertaking outreach and education
The recommendations both recognized the considerable work underway by all Contaminants TWG participants and partners, and also included new actions to be taken by members.
Members have implemented actions and realized achievements across these areas of work, including:
- Increasing research and monitoring of contaminants of concern in water, salmon and the Southern Resident Killer Whale
- Supporting proposed amendments to federal regulations to restrict, or further restrict, the release of seven contaminants
- Developing Environmental Quality Guidelines (Excel) that are protective of these whales and the salmon that they rely on for food
- Increasing outreach and education activities and
- Developing the Pollutants Affecting Whales and their Prey Inventory Tool (PAWPIT)
Based on accomplishments to date and emerging issues of concern, the Contaminants Technical Working Group recommends the following:
- Enhance and enable collaborations with First Nations;
- Involve interested Indigenous groups and First Nations more directly in research and monitoring through dedicated funding
- Support First Nations in their capacity to participate actively in the Contaminants Technical Working Group
- Implement recommendations made by the Contaminants TWG as appropriate;
- Encourage swift adoption of the recommended Environmental Quality Guidelines protective of the Southern Resident Killer Whale and Chinook salmon in all jurisdictions and sectors that may be a source of contaminants to these species
- Share information from the Pollutants Affecting Whales and their Prey Inventory Tool on exceedances and contaminant hot spots with authorities that have the capacity to act on them
- Support effective stormwater management;
- Compile and share information and data on contaminants found in stormwater and surface runoff that lead to exposure for whales and their primary prey
- Increase collaboration to share actions and best practices taken by local, regional and provincial authorities or organizations
- Continue progress on all actions of a continuous nature recommended by the Contaminants TWG in 2020. Additionally, build upon these recommendations by:
- Sharing data and generating additional knowledge to better understand the threat of long-standing legacy chemicals, such as pesticides, and their sources
- Targeting education on the impact of contaminants on whale and salmon habitat to the public and decision-makers at large
In order to curb the continuing decline of the Southern Resident Killer Whale population, it is imperative to accelerate the work being performed to address threats that affect its recovery, by building on current achievements and tackling emerging issues.
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