New Summer Measures to Protect B.C.'s Southern Resident Killer Whales Will be Implemented

This summer, the federal government is bringing back certain measures to protect the endangered southern resident killer whales this season. It will also add some new measures to protect endangered species. Read on to know more.

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Why Were the Southern Resident Killer Whales Designated Endangered?

The Southern Resident killer whales were designated as endangered according to the federal Species at Risk Act in 2001. Their habitat includes the Salish Sea, and they were given this designation when their population reduced to around 70. Some researchers believe that the loss of chinook salmon, which is the orca's main source of food, is the key reason for the dwindling numbers, while others think noise pollution is also a factor.

The Slowdown Areas

To protect the endangered species, the government will place a speed limit on water vessels like boats and ships in two areas near Swiftsure Bank at the entrance to the Salish Sea near Port Renfrew, B.C. The vessels will need to slow down to a speed of just 10 knots to help reduce the amount of underwater noise they produce.

Closing the Fisheries

The government also plans to close commercial and recreational salmon fisheries in a portion of Swiftsure Bank, some sections of the Southern Gulf Islands, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and a new area at the mouth of the Fraser River. The exact dates of the closures will be shared in June. For the Southern Gulf Islands, closures will begin when the first southern resident is confirmed in the area.

Sanctuary Zones and Minimum Distances

No vessel or fishing will be allowed in two areas, the southeast coast of Pender Island and the Southeast end of Saturna Island, from June 1 to Nov 30, as they are important for foraging. However, there are exceptions like emergencies and Indigenous food, social, and ceremonial fisheries.

This requirement is also for all vessels in waters south of Campbell River and around the southern tip of Vancouver Island just past Ucluelet to remain at least 400 meters away from all orcas.

Authorized whale-watching companies will be allowed to get within 200 meters of a killer whale that is not a southern resident. Still, they need to prove that their guides can identify the difference.

Other Measures

The other measures taken by the government include continuing the voluntary Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program, which aims to reduce noise pollution and involves ongoing research by the federal government into contaminants.

Expert Opinion

The cetacean researcher, Barret-Leonard, believes that the measures will be effective if they are enforced.

The Penalties

Last year, the federal government handed out penalties worth $51,500 for violating the measures.

What the Government Said?

Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard Joyce Murray said, "Southern resident killer whales have called the Pacific coast home for thousands of years, and we want to see their population grow, flourish, and return to their former abundance. Our government has been taking significant actions to protect these majestic creatures, and we will enhance our protection measures to help limit the impacts of human activity in their habitats."


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