Protecting Southern Resident Killer Whales

Backgrounder

 



Protecting Southern Resident Killer Whales
Where we started What we’ve done What’s new

Increasing food availability

Chinook Salmon in the Salish Sea have experienced poor returns in recent years. This means there is less food available for the whales to eat.

In November 2018, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada released the results of an assessment of 16 (of 28) southern BC Chinook stocks, with 13 stocks originating in the Fraser River. Seven of these were assessed as endangered, four threatened and one of special concern. Only one stock was deemed not at risk.

In April 2019, the government introduced difficult, but necessary, fisheries management measures for recreational fisheries to address Fraser River Chinook decline.

Delayed the recreational retention fishery and First Nations food, social and ceremonial fisheries, which have a constitutionally protected priority, until July 15.

Closed the Fraser River fishery until at least August 23.

Decreased the annual limit of Chinook caught per season from 30 fish to 10.

Area-based closures in key foraging areas for recreational and commercial salmon fisheries will take effect after the Chinook conservation measures end and will remain in place through the end of October.

Bubble closures around killer whales will be implemented on a trial basis in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Gulf Islands, and the mouth of the Fraser River. All commercial and recreational fish harvesters would be expected to temporarily stop fishing activities when killer whales are within 1 km.

Reducing disturbances

Noise from marine shipping can negatively impact whales. More needs to be done to make an immediate difference in the lives of Southern Residents

The Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation Program, (ECHO) was developed in 2014. The program is a Port of Vancouver-led initiative aimed at better understanding and managing the impact of shipping activities on whales along the southern coast of B.C.

Voluntary guidelines for approach distances existed but they were not enforceable.

Reduced fishing activity in key foraging areas to lessen disturbance from fishing vessels.

Amended Marine Mammal Regulations including mandatory minimum approach distances. For killer whales in the Pacific, this means vessels must stay 200 metres away.

Worked with the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority’s ECHO program, industry stakeholders, and the US Coast guard, to implement a voluntary lateral displacement of vessels in the Strait of Juan de Fuca in June 2018, to move vessels further away from key foraging areas on the coast of Vancouver Island.

Worked with the ECHO program to implement a voluntary vessel slowdown in Haro Strait in 2018.

Deployed hydrophones along key shipping routes to measure effectiveness of noise reduction technologies.

Working with U.S. partners to harmonize vessel quieting measures.

Supporting the development of the WhaleReport Alert System to provide real time information on whale locations so vessels can avoid disturbing them

Expanding automated vessel monitoring to include small vessels. This makes our waters safer and also helps to identify where whales might be disturbed by a concentration of vessels.

Completed a conservation agreement with the Canadian Ferry Association to engage ferry operators in efforts to reduce the threat of acoustic disturbance.

Key refuges for the whales with Interim sanctuary zones in important foraging areas (off the south-west coast of Pender Island and south-east end of Saturna Island, and Swiftsure Bank) will limit vessel traffic from June 1 until October 31, subject to certain exceptions for emergency vessels and vessels engaged in Indigenous food, social and ceremonial fisheries.

A 400-metre approach distance for small vessels, including recreational boats and whale watching vessels, from all killer whales in the Southern Resident killer whale critical habitat. Some exceptions will be made for whale watching companies viewing transient or Biggs killer whales.

Signed the Conservation Agreement with the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority and six other member organizations of the ECHO program that represent large commercial vessels that commits parties to ongoing efforts to reduce underwater noise from large commercial vessels.

The Government of Canada will be entering into an agreement with the Pacific Whale Watch Association who will refrain from offering tours on Southern Resident killer whales and will commit to taking other stewardship actions. This commitment will also allow them to approach other types of killer whales to a distance of 200 metres in the area.

Voluntary slowdown in the three “Enhanced Management Areas” where all vessels are asked to reduce their speed to less than 7 knots if they are within 1 km of killer whales.

When safe to do so, vessel operators are asked to turn off their echo sounders and turn engines to neutral idle if a whale is within 400 metres.

Expanded the voluntary slow-down zone to include both Haro Strait and Boundary Pass to achieve greater noise reductions.

Reducing contaminants

Contaminants in our waters can harm whales. Many contaminants affecting Southern Resident Killer Whales have already been prohibited in Canada and regulations restricting the use of other contaminants have been implemented

The manufacture, use and import of persistent organic pollutants such as DDT have been prohibited since 1985. PCBs have been restricted since 1991 and the phase out of these substances accelerated in 2008 with publication of the PCB Regulations.

Since 2006, the Chemicals Management Plan has made Canada a world leader in assessing and managing the risks to human health and the environment associated with certain chemicals.

Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations reduce the threats to fish and fish habitat by setting out effluent release standards. Wastewater systems that do not meet the effluent release standards outlined in the Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations must upgrade their treatment systems to include secondary treatment which is able to remove approximately 90% of some pollutants such as PBDEs.

Increased investment for research on contaminants, including monitoring of contaminant levels in whales and in their main prey.

Published a consultation document outlining the proposed regulatory approach to amending  the Prohibition of Certain Toxic Substances Regulations (PCTSR), 2012 to enhance regulatory controls for five persistent organic pollutants (oil and water repellents and flame retardants) and to prohibit  two new flame retardants.

Providing up to $423 million in funding for wastewater treatment plant upgrades in Victoria and North Vancouver through the Investing in Canada long-term infrastructure plan.

Funded a Canadian Water Network-led National Expert Panel to review existing and emergent contaminants in wastewater systems and the technologies available to remove them. Results of the review have been published and can be found on the Canadian Water Network website.

Regulatory controls are under development  to strengthen five persistent organic pollutants that are listed as toxic under section 64 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999) through the removal of exemptions, or provision of time limited exemptions, such that they are phased out of use.  Regulatory controls will be proposed to prohibit the manufacture, import, use, sale, offer of sale and products that contain them for two new flame retardants.

Proposed Regulations amending the PCTSR are expected to be published in winter 2020.


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