No mitigation measures can protect Southern Resident killer whales from the noise of Trans Mountain’s tanker traffic

The NEB acknowledges the Trans Mountain project is a trade-off between Southern Residents and the pipeline.

Today the National Energy Board (NEB) recommended that the Trans Mountain Expansion should proceed despite the consequence of oil tankers on the critically endangered Southern Resident killer whale population.

While we disagree with the NEB’s conclusion, their review of the project effects on killer whales is honest and forthright and portrays the complexity and severity of the situation. These whales have no resiliency to absorb further stressors. The NEB could only conclude the project carries significant adverse effects.

There is nothing that can currently be done to reduce the effects of tanker noise on Southern Resident killer whales. While the government says increased tanker traffic is a small percent of total traffic, an extra tanker per day will mean the whales will spend more time in the presence of ships and less time successfully feeding. This makes their recovery all but impossible.

Raincoast served as expert interveners in the NEB’s reconsideration of the Trans Mountain expansion, submitting extensive scientific evidence on the effects the project will have on the Southern Residents and the risk to Fraser River Chinook salmon. Raincoast served as expert interveners in the first federal review of the Trans Mountain expansion, submitting over 500 pages of evidence to the NEB. When the federal cabinet initially approved the project, based on the previous NEB recommendation, Raincoast and Living Oceans Society, represented by Ecojustice, successfully challenged the approval in court.

The NEB’s new report identifies that the project is “likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects on the Southern resident killer whale and on Indigenous cultural use associated with the Southern resident killer whale.”

Our expert evidence indicates that it may be impossible to mitigate the effects of project related shipping on Southern Resident killer whales. While there are welcome initiatives to address the noise from vessel traffic in the future, a noise offset program neglects the fact the population is already endangered under current conditions. If this project is approved increased noise and disturbance is a given, further degrading the habitat they need to recover.

Given the NEB recommendation, the federal cabinet must determine whether extinction of this population is an acceptable trade-off for the business and political interests associated with Trans Mountain. For ecological, cultural and even economic reasons, we believe this is not an acceptable tradeoff.  These killer whales are iconic symbols of our region and our values. They are priceless and irreplaceable and many Canadians feel compelled to safeguard their intrinsic right to live without harm and suffering in these coastal waters.

Raincoast’s evidence on Southern Resident killer whales for the National Energy Board’s reconsideration of the Trans Mountain Expansion

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Raincoast’s in-house scientists, collaborating graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and professors make us unique among conservation groups. We work with First Nations, academic institutions, government, and other NGOs to build support and inform decisions that protect aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and the wildlife that depend on them. We conduct ethically applied, process-oriented, and hypothesis-driven research that has immediate and relevant utility for conservation deliberations and the collective body of scientific knowledge.

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Coastal wolf with a salmon in its month.
Photo by Dene Rossouw.