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.

Southern Resident killer whales on the surface of the blue Salish Sea.

Photo by NOAA.

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.

Misty MacDuffee is a biologist and Wild Salmon Program Director

Misty MacDuffee, Wild Salmon Program Director

Misty is a biologist and the Program Director of Raincoast’s Wild Salmon Program. Her most recent publication, with co-authors at Raincoast & the University of Victoria, identifies the importance of habitat mosaics for fish in the Fraser River estuary. She is dedicated to the long term survival of finned, furred, and feathered creatures.

Paul Paquet, Senior Scientist Paul Paquet, Senior Raincoast Scientist

Paul is an internationally recognized authority on mammalian carnivores, including their ecology, behaviour, and management. Having published more than 200 scholarly articles and several books addressing issues of ecology, conservation, and environmental ethics, Paul brings over 40 years of academic and applied research experience to Raincoast as our Senior Scientist.