Ottawa pledges to preserve and restore B.C.'s southern resident orca and other endangered whale populations

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      Canada's federal government has launched a new program aimed at protecting several species of whales that reside in the country's coastal waters.

      "This $167.4 million initiative under Budget 2018 will protect and support the recovery of the southern resident killer whale, the North Atlantic right whale, and the St. Lawrence Estuary beluga whale through comprehensive actions tailored to address the unique combinations of threats," reads a June 22 media release.

      It draws special attention to the situation of southern resident killer whale (also known as orca whale), which resides in the coastal waters of southern B.C. and northern Washington state in the Salish Sea.

      "The Government of Canada recognizes that they face an imminent threat to survival and recovery which requires immediate attention," reads the release. "Canada's Whales Initiative includes immediate and comprehensive action to support their recovery by addressing the main threats they face: lack of prey, disturbance from vessels, including noise and pollution from land-based sources."

      Minister of Transport Marc Garneau and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson announced the initiative in Vancouver on Friday (June 22).

      "With more eyes in the sky and ears in the water, the southern resident killer whale will get additional protection as we work together to reduce threats," Garneau said quoted in the release. "Human-caused threats, including lack of prey, underwater noise, and contaminants, are things we can address together to help save this iconic species."

      The government's list of "key actions" includes improving prey availability, reducing vessel noise and underwater disturbances, enhancing whale monitoring from both the sea and air, and strengthening enforcement against activities that can harm whales in coastal waters.

      Last January, the Straight reported that a collection of B.C.-based environmental groups—including the the David Suzuki Foundation, Georgia Strait Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, and World Wildlife Fund Canada—had sent a petition to Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Dominic LeBlanc and Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna recommending that the federal government " issue an emergency order to address three key threats to the Southern Resident killer whales". 

      “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," reads a January 30 media release that was issued by the environmental groups.

      The release notes this population of orca 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.

      McKenna is quoted in the government's June 22 release again focusing on B.C.'s orca whales.

      "The Southern Resident Killer Whale has captured the imagination of British Columbians and has been deeply embedded in the cultures of Indigenous Peoples for many generations. We're taking meaningful action to address threats to this magnificent creature by implementing additional new measures in partnership with environmental organizations, Indigenous Peoples, governments and stakeholders. We will protect this iconic species for us and for generations to come."

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