We are headed to the Supreme Court for Southern Resident killer whales

The danger hasn’t changed for these endangered killer whales. The NEB and the federal government have never addressed the increased extinction risk associated with more noise from oil tanker traffic.

Today, Raincoast takes our work to protect Southern Resident killer whales from the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Working with Living Oceans Society and our legal team at Ecojustice, we have filed an application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. We are arguing that the federal government violated the Species at Risk Act when it approved the pipeline for a second time in June 2019. This project is expected to increase the risk of extinction of an endangered population, and as such, it should not proceed.

Raincoast became an intervenor when the National Energy Board (NEB) review process began in 2012. We submitted evidence to the NEB on Fraser River salmon and herring and undertook a Population Viability Analysis on Southern Resident killer whales to examine their recovery potential with, and without, the increased tanker traffic from Trans Mountain.

After the project was first approved by the federal cabinet, we filed a lawsuit in 2016 to prevent the proposed seven-fold increase in oil tanker traffic through the Salish Sea. The case was heard before the Federal Court of Appeal in October 2017 and in a landmark decision for the Southern Residents, we won this lawsuit in 2018. However, the project was again approved in June 2019 after reconsideration. We appealed this decision and one month ago, the Federal Court of Appeal declined to hear our case. This brings us to our appeal to the Supreme Court today.

Throughout this time we have been guided by our research that indicates the Southern Residents could be functionally extinct (less than 30 individuals) within a century under the existing levels of noise, food and pollutants in the Salish Sea. A similar analysis by Fisheries and Oceans Canada came to the same conclusion. The increased noise from Trans Mountain’s tankers and support vessels only makes the situation for the whales worse.

There is nothing that can effectively be done to prevent 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. 

This case is just one aspect of our work to protect Southern Residents. We also restore habitat for their primary food source (Chinook salmon) in the Fraser River estuary and work in partnership with others to ensure science informs recovery measures. 

We are committed to doing all we can to put this this endangered population of just 73 individuals on a track toward recovery. 

For the 73 that remain.

You can help

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.

We investigate to understand coastal species and processes. We inform by bringing science to decision-makers and communities. We inspire action to protect wildlife and wildlife habitats.

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