Quantcast
Insights

Christopher Michel / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Emergency Order Aims to Protect Resident Orcas

Canada is losing a lot of its wildlife. The World Wildlife Fund's 2017 Living Planet Report Canada found half the monitored mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian and fish species declined from 1970 to 2014. Threatened and endangered species continue to disappear despite federal legislation designed to protect them and help their populations recover. What's going wrong?


The report puts the blame on habitat loss, farming, forestry, urban and industrial development, climate change, pollution, invasive species and overfishing—all related to human activity.

One reason plant and animal populations continue to suffer is that protection under the Species at Risk Act is plagued by delays at every step. The government often delays making a decision on whether to accept scientific recommendations that a species should be listed. The woodland caribou, for example, was listed as threatened in 2003 but its recovery strategy wasn't available until 2012. More delays regularly follow between a species being listed and following up with measures to protect it. And actions finally taken are sometimes inadequate to stop the decline or start the recovery of a species. The David Suzuki Foundation and other environmental groups have gone to court many times to try to end these delays.

Enter a little used legal tool: an emergency order under the Species at Risk Act. An emergency order is a flexible, effective tool that can be tailored to a species' specific needs. It provides measures to address imminent threats to a species. Emergency orders helped stop further declines of western chorus frogs and rebuilt greater sage grouse populations.

West Coast conservation groups, including the David Suzuki Foundation, are calling for an emergency order to protect Canada's most endangered marine mammal: southern resident orcas, or killer whales. The 76 remaining animals—which can be found in the Salish Sea near Vancouver and around Washington State's San Juan Islands and BC's Gulf Islands—face threats that imperil their ability to survive. This is the orca's lowest population in more than three decades, and no surviving calves have been produced since 2015.

The act compels the ministers responsible to recommend an emergency order to cabinet if they believe a species is facing imminent threats to its survival or recovery. Emergency orders can require actions over and above any laws, policies or regulations already in place to recover the species. Although the act requires that southern resident orcas and the habitat they need for recovery be given automatic protection, not enough has been done to prevent their continuing decline. Urgent additional measures are needed to ensure survival and recovery.

The three biggest threats to the whales' recovery are underwater noise and disturbance, contaminants and a reduction in the whales' favored prey, chinook salmon. While all these threats require an immediate response, recent deaths—in particular among calves and mothers or pregnant whales—appear to be driven by food scarcity.

The orcas feed primarily on Fraser River chinook, whose populations and nutritional yield have declined over the past 12 to 15 years. Habitat change, harvest rates and hatchery influences, along with climate change impacts and possibly disease threats from open net-cage salmon farms, all play roles in the chinook's decline. Recreational and commercial fisheries are competing with the whales for salmon and disrupting the whales when they try to feed.

The emergency order calls for limits to the number of chinook that can be caught and for other restrictions on fishing. It also calls on government to designate whale feeding refuges during spring and summer for a minimum of five years. The refuges would allow the orcas to forage without noise and disturbance from fishing and whale-watching vessels. Protection could also include introducing speed limits for large commercial vessels that travel along key foraging areas. These solutions are supported by Fisheries and Oceans Canada's own science and are part of recovery strategies and action plans.

Research indicates a 24 to 50 percent risk of southern resident orca extinction this century if conditions don't change. It's a colossal failure of policy and will that finds Canada's wildlife in such dire circumstances. The extinction of these whales, and many other endangered species in Canada, is a preventable tragedy. It's urgent for government to act immediately to ensure these iconic Salish Sea animals survive.

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
Energy
Alaska's Kenai Fjords National Park, which was impacted by the Exxon Valdez oil spill, could be harmed again if expanded offshore drilling plans go through. National Park Service

Trump’s Offshore Drilling Plan Puts 68 National Parks at Risk

Sixty-eight National Parks along the coastal U.S. could be in danger from devastating oil spills if President Donald Trump's plan to open 90 percent of coastal waters to offshore oil drilling goes through, a report released Wednesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Parks Conservation Association found.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
E. coli. The World Health Organizations says antibiotic resistance is "one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today." U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Climate Change Could Supercharge Threat of Antibiotic Resistance: Study

By Andrea Germano

The World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have previously sounded alarms about the growing issue of antibiotic resistance—a problem already linked to overprescribing of antibiotics and industrial farming practices. Now, new research shows a link between warmer temperatures and antibiotic resistance, suggesting it could be a greater threat than previously thought on our ever-warming planet.

Keep reading... Show less
Renewable Energy
Powerwall residential battery with solar panels. Tesla

Tesla's Massive Virtual Power Plant in South Australia Roars Back to Life

Tesla's plans to build the world's largest virtual power plant in South Australia will proceed after all.

The $800 million (US $634 million) project—struck in February by Tesla CEO Elon Musk and former South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill—involves installing solar panels and batteries on 50,000 homes to function as an interconnected power plant.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
A French lavender farmer is part of the group suing the EU for more ambitious emissions targets, saying climate change threatens his crop. Iamhao / CC BY-SA 3.0

10 Families Bring First Ever 'People’s Climate Case' Against the EU

Ten families from Fiji, Kenya and countries across Europe who are already suffering the effects of climate change filed a case against the EU Wednesday in a bid to force the body to increase its commitments under the Paris agreement, AFP reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Oceans

Swimmer Plans to Cross Pacific to Highlight Plastic Pollution

Ben Lecomte, the first man to swim across the Atlantic in 1998, will attempt another grueling, history-making ocean crossing.

On Tuesday, the 50-year-old Frenchman and his crew will set out from Tokyo for a 5,500-mile swim across the Pacific, Reuters reported. If all goes as planned, Lecomte will arrive in San Francisco six to eight months later.

Keep reading... Show less
Business
Tesco supermarket near Ashford Hospital in West Bedfont, England. Maxwell Hamilton / CC BY 2.0

UK's Largest Grocer Takes on Food and Plastic Waste

It's been a green week for Tesco, the UK's largest supermarket.

First, the chain said it would remove "Best before" labels from around 70 pre-packaged fruits and vegetables in an attempt to stop customers from discarding still-edible food, BBC News reported Tuesday.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
"While roads around our plant are impassable, our ride-out crew has two boats that could be used to carry the crew out of the site," said a spokesperson for Arkema on Aug. 29, 2017 after Hurricane Harvey. EPA

Chemical Industry Lacks Preparation for Extreme Weather, Investigation Finds

A Houston chemical plant company did not properly prepare for hurricane season, resulting in a toxic accident during Hurricane Harvey last year, federal regulators have found.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board on Thursday released an extensive investigation into the flooding-induced chemical fires at the Arkema plant in Crosby, Texas, finding that while the company's insurers flagged the high potential for flooding a year before Harvey, plant employees were unaware of the risk.

Keep reading... Show less
Business
Calgary Reviews / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

McDonald's Shareholders Vote to Keep Distributing Plastic Straws

McDonald's shareholders rejected a proposal to take the first step in banning plastic straws at its 36,000 outlets worldwide.

The proposal, published in an SEC filing in April, would have required the fast food giant to prepare a report on the business risks of using plastic straws, and the company's efforts to develop and implement more sustainable alternatives in its restaurants.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!