Whales are getting lots of attention at the Vancouver hearings for the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.
As someone who grew up watching the giant cetaceans off the coast of B.C. with great fascination, whales are a hugely personal matter for Caitlin Birdsall. The conservationist appeared Wednesday (January 16) before the Joint Review Panel assessing the Enbridge Inc. proposal.
“The risk associated with increased tanker traffic that would be caused by the pipeline threaten the very place in the world where I feel most right and the place I extract much of my identity,” Birdsall told the panel.
She shared a story about when she was on board a boat in Queens Sound last summer “just south of the area where the tankers would run through” and saw resting whales.
“Now, resting whales position themselves abreast of each other, pectoral flipper to pectoral flipper in a long line, and they rise to the surface slowly in unison. The ‘pfff’ from that synchronized breathing echoes all across the surface,” Birdsall said.
“As far as science understands, resting tooth cetaceans are only semi-conscious; they shut off half their brain. On this day, the match line we were closest to was comprised of 10 whales all moving as one, slowly weaving their way through kelp beds, past a preening sea otter and among islets.
“While I found it pretty incredible that resting whales can still navigate so diligently while only partially conscious, what really struck me at that moment was the one thing that they would not avoid whether awake or at rest is oil. And we know this from experience.”
What she was referring to was the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, when two groups of killer whales were seen swimming through the slick.
“Those two families, the AT1 transients and the AB pod of residents, suffered incredible blows because of their mistake,” Birdsall said.
“Within one year, they suffered mortality of 40 and 33 percents, respectively. The normal rate would have been 2.5 percent. One of these groups, the genetically distinct AT1, has never had a calf since. They will eventually cease to exist. They are a sad footnote on the tragic tale of a spill.”
In the vicinity of the hearing room at the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre, a 25-foot-long whale art installation has been on public display at the corner of Burrard and Nelson streets since the start of the hearing on Monday (January 14).
This whale figure has been named Hope to symbolize aspirations for an oil-free coast.
Langara student Marc St. Pierre was one of the volunteers at the art installation site on Wednesday. According to St. Pierre, the whale figure also represents the enormity of the environmental stakes with the proposed Enbridge pipeline.
St. Pierre is also a volunteer for the Blue Drop Movement that expects to gather hundreds of participants on Friday (January 18) for an art demonstration coinciding with the end of the week-long Enbridge hearings.
Participants will form a giant blue water drop outside the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre to highlight their demand for the protection of water and land. The event starts 11:30 a.m.