Government of Canada takes action to protect Southern Resident Killer Whales

News release

Vancouver, British Columbia – British Columbia’s Southern Resident Killer Whales are iconic and awe-inspiring creatures that are cherished by Canadians and visitors, and hold significant cultural value for Indigenous peoples. Canada is committed to protecting species at risk and the ecosystems they rely on today, and for future generations. That’s why the Government of Canada is taking further action to protect B.C.’s iconic Southern Resident Killer Whales and support the recovery of Chinook salmon, a primary food source for the whales.

Today, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, Dominic LeBlanc, and Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, announced the finding under the Species at Risk Act that Southern Resident Killer Whales face an imminent threat to both survival and recovery. The Ministers came to this opinion after reviewing an assessment that considered the biological condition of Southern Resident Killer Whale population, ongoing threats, and mitigation measures.

In 2016, the government announced the $1.5-billion Oceans Protection Plan, which will make our oceans cleaner, safer and healthier for generations to come, and is providing direct benefits to Southern Resident Killer Whales. Building on this historic investment, the government will continue to work in partnership with British Columbia, industry, civil society and Indigenous communities to take immediate action to support the stabilization and recovery of the Southern Resident Killer Whales.

Lack of prey is one of the critical factors affecting the recovery of Southern Resident Killer Whales. To address this, Minister LeBlanc announced today measures to increase prey availability and conserve Chinook salmon. A reduction in the total fishery removals for Chinook salmon of 25-35% will help conserve this important species and increase prey availability for Southern Resident Killer Whales. Fishery closures for recreational finfish and commercial salmon fisheries in portions of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and portions of the Gulf Islands, and partial closures in the mouth of the Fraser River will protect key foraging areas for these whales. Additional measures to achieve Chinook fishery reductions across the B.C. coast includes reduced harvest limits, size limits and time restrictions, and select area closures to protect wild Chinook stocks of concern.

Chinook are one of the primary food sources for the Southern Resident Killer Whales, and wild populations of Chinook salmon have declined dramatically in recent years. Achieving these conservation reductions will help restore Chinook populations and enhance the availability of Chinook for Southern Resident Killer Whales to eat.

Earlier today, Minister LeBlanc also announced over $9.5 million in funding under the Oceans Protection Plan for eight projects across British Columbia that will help restore habitat for Chinook salmon in several areas of the province. These projects will help rehabilitate some of our most vulnerable coastlines by collaborating with partners.

Additional short- and long-term measures to support the recovery of the Southern Resident Killer Whales will be announced in the near future.


Quotes

“Southern Resident Killer Whales need our help in order to survive and recover. Together with my colleague, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, we have determined that the species faces an imminent threat to its survival and recovery, and we need to keep taking concrete action. Today I am pleased to announce new fishery management measures to increase prey availability and reduce disturbances to these whales and we continue to work hard on additional actions to be put in place soon.”

The Honourable Dominic LeBlanc, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

“Our government is taking immediate steps today to protect Southern Resident Killer Whales and their prey, and we will take additional and ongoing action as needed to support their long-term recovery. These iconic and awe-inspiring whales are cherished by Canadians across the country and visitors alike, and protecting them is essential to keeping our oceans healthy and dynamic – not just for today, but to ensure we leave a rich natural legacy to our kids and grandkids.”

The Honourable Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Quick facts

  • B.C.’s Southern Resident Killer Whales inhabit the waters from southern and central Vancouver Island to northern California, including the Strait of Georgia, Puget Sound, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

  • Their numbers fell significantly in the 1960s and early 1970s when approximately 47 orcas from the Southern Resident clan were captured and relocated to aquariums.

  • Since then, the Southern Resident population has fluctuated; the remaining 76 individual Southern Resident Killer Whales face threats from lack of prey, acoustic and physical disturbance, and pollution.

  • Southern Resident Killer Whales are listed as endangered species in both Canada and the U.S., and a federal recovery strategy was published in 2011 under the Species at Risk Act.

  • The Government of Canada is also investing $1.5 billion in a world-leading Oceans Protection Plan, and additional measures to promote the protection and recovery of three key whale species. Under the Oceans Protection Plan, Fisheries and Oceans in 2017 engaged governments, Indigenous groups, stakeholders and the public on how to further protect the North Atlantic Right Whale, the St Lawrence Estuary Beluga and the Southern Resident Killer Whale. Feedback received during the engagement informed planning and decision making for enhanced recovery efforts for these whale populations.

  • Budget 2018 committed $1.3 billion to invest in nature, create new protected areas, and support the recovery of species at risk, as well as $167.4 million over five years to help protect and recover endangered whale species in Canada. This includes funding for science activities to help better understand factors affecting the health of whale populations, as well as actions to help address the threats arising from human activities.

  • The Government of Canada is considering all options to ensure the necessary protections are in place to protect Southern Resident Killer Whales as rapidly as possible.

Associated links

Contacts

Media Relations
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
613-990-7537
Media.xncr@dfo-mpo.gc.ca

Vincent Hughes
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
613-992-3474
vincent.hughes@dfo-mpo.gc.ca 

Media Relations                                                        
Environment and Climate Change Canada
819-938-3338 or 1-844-836-7799 (toll free)
ec.media.ec@canada.ca

Caroline Thériault
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change
613-462-5473
caroline.theriault2@canada.ca

NR-HQ-24E

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