Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Emergency Order Aims to Protect Resident Orcas

Insights + Opinion

Christopher Michel / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

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.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

The Firefly Watch project is among the options for aspiring citizen scientists to join. Mike Lewinski / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.0

By Tiffany Means

Summer and fall are great seasons to enjoy the outdoors. But if you're already spending extra time outside because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be out of ideas on how to make fresh-air activities feel special. Here are a few suggestions to keep both adults and children entertained and educated in the months ahead, many of which can be done from the comfort of one's home or backyard.

Read More Show Less
People sit at the bar of a restaurant in Austin, Texas, on June 26, 2020. Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered bars to be closed by noon on June 26 and for restaurants to be reduced to 50% occupancy. Coronavirus cases in Texas spiked after being one of the first states to begin reopening. SERGIO FLORES / AFP via Getty Images

The coronavirus may linger in the air in crowded indoor spaces, spreading from one person to the next, the World Health Organization acknowledged on Thursday, as The New York Times reported. The announcement came just days after 239 scientists wrote a letter urging the WHO to consider that the novel coronavirus is lingering in indoor spaces and infecting people, as EcoWatch reported.

Read More Show Less
A never-before-documented frog species has been discovered in the Peruvian highlands and named Phrynopus remotum. Germán Chávez

By Angela Nicoletti

The eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains in central Perú are among the most remote places in the world.

Read More Show Less
Left: Lemurs in Madagascar on March 30, 2017. Mathias Appel / Flickr. Right: A North Atlantic right whale mother and calf. National Marine Fisheries Service

A new analysis by scientists at the Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found that lemurs and the North Atlantic right whale are on the brink of extinction.

Read More Show Less
Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular. Colin Dunn / Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Julia Vergin

It is undisputed that vitamin D plays a role everywhere in the body and performs important functions. A severe vitamin D deficiency, which can occur at a level of 12 nanograms per milliliter of blood or less, leads to severe and painful bone deformations known as rickets in infants and young children and osteomalacia in adults. Unfortunately, this is where the scientific consensus ends.

Read More Show Less
Data from a scientist measuring macroalgal communities in rocky shores in the Argentinean Patagonia would be added to the new system. Patricia Miloslavich / University of Delaware

Ocean scientists have been busy creating a global network to understand and measure changes in ocean life. The system will aggregate data from the oceans, climate and human activity to better inform sustainable marine management practices.

EcoWatch sat down with some of the scientists spearheading the collaboration to learn more.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Authors of a new study warned Thursday that increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is nearing a level not seen in 15 million years. Dawn Ellner / Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Jessica Corbett

As a United Nations agency released new climate projections showing that the world is on track in the next five years to hit or surpass a key limit of the Paris agreement, authors of a new study warned Thursday that increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is nearing a level not seen in 15 million years.

Read More Show Less