Today, we launched a new lawsuit to ensure our federal government acts to protect the endangered Southern Resident killer whales. The lawsuit comes less than a month after Southern Resident (J35) (Tahlequah) carried her deceased calf for 17 days and a few days after the federal appeal court upheld our challenge to the approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline.
Why now? We have been pushing the Canadian government to take urgent action since January 2018 when we first petitioned the federal fisheries and environment ministers to recommend an emergency order. Subsequently, we pushed for emergency protections while providing a detailed, science-based rationale for what those measures should be.
For broader context, a decade ago (fall of 2008) we filed a similar lawsuit to protect Canada’s two populations of Resident killer whales (the Northern and Southern Residents). Our case then stated that government failed to specify biological (food), chemical (water & food quality), and acoustic qualities of critical habitat. The series of legal actions ended with a win (court of appeal and supreme court) for critical habitat protection.
Fast forward a decade. On May 24, 2018, the federal fisheries and environment ministers announced that the Southern Residents face “imminent threats” to their survival and recovery. Given this acknowledgement, the ministers are now legally required to recommend cabinet issue an emergency order under the Species at Risk Act, unless other legal measures are already in place.
Our lawyers at Ecojustice have asked the Federal Court to review the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and Minister of Environment and Climate Change’s failure to recommend an emergency order to protect Southern Resident killer whales under the Species at Risk Act. Our application was filed on behalf of Raincoast and our partners at the David Suzuki Foundation, Georgia Strait Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council, and World Wildlife Fund Canada.
To be clear, the courts are not our first resort; litigation is expensive and time-consuming. Only 75 members of the population remain and no successful births have occurred since 2015. An emergency order is the most effective way for government to cut through red tape and take swift action to address imminent threats to the Southern Residents.
We have outlined these actions repeatedly and they include measures to ensure prey availability and accessibility, measures to avoid physical and acoustic disturbance, speed controls for commercial vessels transiting Juan de Fuca and Haro Strait and rebuilding initiatives for wild Chinook salmon. More recently, we called for an immediate closure of marine recreational and marine commercial Chinook fisheries, as well as a suspension of commercial and private whale watching targeting the Southern Residents.
Our research demonstrates that recovery of Southern Resident killer whales requires comprehensive fisheries restrictions, beyond the partial measures the government introduced this summer, and measures to reduce noise and disturbance from vessels. With the population facing imminent threats to its very survival, we cannot risk further delaying tangible action.
Please consider sharing this post with your friends and within your networks. This legal challenge is also a reminder that our government has the power to act.