Environmental groups call for emergency government intervention to protect Southern resident orca whales

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      A petition is on its way to the desks of Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Dominic LeBlanc and Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna that asks for an emergency intervention to protect Southern resident orca whales.

      “The petition calls on the Ministers to recommend Cabinet issue an emergency order to address three key threats to the Southern Resident killer whales,” reads a January 30 media release.

      “Specifically, it calls for an order containing actions to: help increase the availability of Chinook salmon for the Southern Residents, limit the physical and acoustic disturbance from vessels that interferes with their ability to communicate and hunt, and complete the identification and legal protection of their critical habitat.”

      The release notes this population of orca whale (often referred to as killer whales) has declined to just 76 animals. They reside in the transboundary waters of the Salish Sea, including the Juan de Fuca Strait, Georgia Strait, and Puget Sound.

      The groups behind the petition are the David Suzuki Foundation, Georgia Strait Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, and World Wildlife Fund Canada. The release states the petition was submitted to the ministers’ by Ecojustice Canada, a group based in Vancouver.

      “The petition is a response to the urgent need to reduce threats to the Southern Resident killer whales’ immediate and long-term survival and the lack of action by the government to date,” it continues.

      According to the release, the ministers can use Canada’s Species at Risk Act to issue an emergency order that would allow for the federal government to “create special protections” for the Southern resident orca whale.

      The release quotes Jeffery Young, senior science and policy analyst for the David Suzuki Foundation.

      “Immediate actions are needed to rebuild Chinook salmon populations, the most important food source for the endangered whales,” he said. “These include closing feeding areas to give whales quiet, unimpeded foraging areas and reducing Chinook catch to restore abundance. We can’t afford to see another year when the whales go hungry.”

      Dyna Tuytel, a lawyer with Ecojustice, is similarly quoted emphasizing that action needs to happen fast.

      “Southern Resident killer whales are in crisis and we need to act now if we want to prevent their extinction,” she said.

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