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Killer whales in a tight formation on the BC coast.

Save the whales: a future for the southern residents

Canada’s southern population of salmon-eating killer whales are endangered. Their salmon stocks are in decline and targeted by fisheries. Their ocean is noisy and polluted. They face extinction under status quo conditions. The good news is they can begin to recover if these conditions are reversed.

Legal action to protect resident killer whales

In the fall of 2008 Raincoast and several other conservation groups, filed a lawsuit to protect Canada’s two populations of resident killer whales. Represented by Ecojustice, the case was filed on the basis that Fisheries & Oceans Canada (DFO) is obligated to protect the critical habitat of threatened and endangered whales. A 16-year timeline detailing government failure and legal action by NGOs can be downloaded: SRKW recovery planning timeline PDF.

In 2008, lead by Ecojustice, Raincoast and other NGOs began a series of legal actions that ended with a win (supreme court and the court of appeal) for critical habitat protection, at least on paper. The details of the lawsuit are here Critical habitat lawsuit (PDF)

A recovery plan for resident killer whales

In 2014, DFO released a Draft Action Plan (PDF)for resident killer whales in British Columbia. Raincoast felt the document was weak and lacked action. With Ecojustice, Raincoast and a group of NGOs provided a critique of the draft action plan (PDF).  Our primary criticisms were the lack of separate actions plans for endangered (southern) versus threatened (northern) whales, and the lack of actions needed on food supply, physical and acoustic disturbance and pollutant exposure for endangered southern resident killer whales.

In 2016, DFO released a second Draft Action Plan (PDF), with little difference from the first. Again with Ecojustice, we critiqued this plan and submitted our comments on the 2016 proposed Action Plan (PDF) in August 2016.

More salmon and less disturbance, noise and pollution needed in the Salish Sea

Southern resident killer whales (SRKW) need better living conditions if they are going to survive.  This starts with an adequate availability of Chinook salmon, their primary food source. In 2012, the US and Canadian governments (through NOAA and DFO) began a series of workshops examining the effect of salmon fisheries on southern resident killer whales.  Raincoast did not agree with some of the conclusions of their Science Panel Expert Report (PDF) and submitted our comments (PDF) to NOAA and DFO. We then conducted our own Population Viability Analysis (PDF) with leading scientists on this topic. One of the important findings from this analysis shows that more Chinook salmon and less disturbance from vessels can rebuild southern resident killer whale numbers.

Population Viability Analysis

This expert testimony/report describes a Population Viability Analysis (PVA) conducted by leading scientists studying killer whales, acoustics and endangered populations. A PVA can assess risks to wildlife populations and evaluate the likely effectiveness of recovery options. This PVA assessed the viability of the southern residents in light of their cumulative disturbances and threats, including increased ocean noise resulting from additional vessel traffic and oil spills. It also examined the role of Chinook salmon abundance and contaminants. The Southern Resident population has experienced almost no population growth over the past four decades, and has declined in the last two decades. Our analysis shows that increased traffic and noise conditions will intensify existing threats, accelerating their rate of decline and leading to extinction. Conversely, reducing existing vessel noise and increasing Chinook availability increases their likelihood of long term survival.

Download:  RCF- SRKW PVA for NEB -May 2015 (PDF)

Acoustic disturbance from vessel traffic

This expert testimony/report describes the importance of sound to killer whales and the concern for even more noise in their critical habitat. Southern resident killer whales produce and listen to sounds in order to establish and maintain critical life functions: to navigate, find and select mates, maintain their social network, and locate and capture prey (especially Chinook salmon). The existing level of noise has already degraded critical habitat and studies suggest it has reduced the feeding efficiency of these whales.

Download:  RCF – SRKW acoustics-NEB (PDF)

Action Plan for recovery of SRKWs

In 2014 and 2016, DFO released  Draft Actions Plans [(2014 PDF) and (2016 PDF)] for resident killer whales in British Columbia. Raincoast felt the document was weak and lacked action. With Ecojustice, Raincoast and a group of NGOs provided a critique of this Action Plan. Our primary criticisms are the lack of separate actions plans for endangered (southern) versus threatened (northern) whales, and the lack of actions needed on food supply, physical and acoustic disturbance and pollutant exposure for endangered southern resident killer whales.

Download: Comments on 2016 Draft Action Plan (PDF) for resident killer whales.

Download: Comments on the 2014 Draft Action Plan (PDF) for resident killer whales.

The role of salmon fisheries on Southern Resident Killer Whales

In 2012, the US (NOAA) and Canadian (DFO) governments produced an Expert Panel Report (PDF) from a series of workshops examining the effect of salmon fisheries on southern resident killer whales. Raincoast did not agree with some of the conclusions in this report and submitted comments to NOAA and DFO.  We then conducted our own Population Viability Analysis (PDF).

Download: Comments from RCF on Science Panel Report (PDF)

 

Audio interviews

MacDuffee laughs aboard a small boat on the Fraser River.

Misty MacDuffee explains why Southern Resident killer whales are threatened by industrialization of the Salish Sea

Misty MacDuffee joined Adam Stirling on CFAX 1070 to discuss the plight of the Southern Resident killer whales. Adam Stirling raises questions regarding the growing threat of oil tankers and shipping traffic…

Misty MacDuffee looks over the front of a boat on the Lower Fraser River.

Misty MacDuffee explains the lethal consequences of oil spills, tanker traffic and pipelines

Hear Misty MacDuffee on CFAX 1070 with Pamela McCall discussing oil spill risks to marine mammal conservation including Southern Resident killer whales…

Death of L95 and the lives of Southern Resident killer whales

Misty MacDuffee speaks with Roundhouse Radio about the life and death of Southern Resident killer whales…

Three orcas swim from right to left.

Chinook salmon and its importance to Southern Resident killer whales

Raincoast’s Misty MacDuffee speaks with Roundhouse Radio about the importance of Chinook (Spring) salmon to the survival of Southern Resident killer whales.

Oil tanker in BC waters

Kinder Morgan tankers threaten Salish Sea

On the 23rd Anniversary of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, CFAX interviews Raincoast’s Misty MacDuffee about the lessons learned and the consideration for the Salish Sea as Kinder Morgan rapidly expands tanker traffic. Source file: CFAX March 2012 (MP3)

Exxon Valdez 23rd Anniversary: Lessons Learned

Raincoast biologist Misty MacDuffee speaks with CBC about lessons we have learned…

Latest News: southern resident killer whales

Two southern resident killer whales approach in the Salish Sea.

Action for killer whales cannot be delayed

The Salish Sea’s Southern Resident killer whale population is one of the most critically endangered populations of marine mammals in Canada and the U.S. Both countries list this transboundary population as endangered, citing three primary risk factors…

Killer Whales versus Kinder Morgan

Raincoast and Living Oceans Society are in court this week, represented by our lawyers at Ecojustice, to challenge the Kinder Morgan pipeline and defend BC’s endangered Southern Resident killer whales…

Spawning channel on the lower mainland.

Letter: Kinder Morgan intervenors demand answers from NEB about salmon protection

Raincoast and Living Oceans detailed concerns over the use of spawning deterrents in important Chinook salmon spawning area in this letter to the National Energy Board…

Measuring a Chinook salmon on the lower Fraser river.

Alaskans close fisheries to protect BC Chinook salmon, while Canada fishes on

There are just as many warning signs that Chinook (spring) salmon in British Columbia are also returning in poor numbers. So why does Canada take a much greater risk with its salmon fisheries than Alaska? Fisheries on the Nass, Skeena and Fraser Rivers…

MacDuffee laughs aboard a small boat on the Fraser River.

Misty MacDuffee explains why Southern Resident killer whales are threatened by industrialization of the Salish Sea

Misty MacDuffee joined Adam Stirling on CFAX 1070 to discuss the plight of the Southern Resident killer whales. Adam Stirling raises questions regarding the growing threat of oil tankers and shipping traffic…

Sockey salmon with bright red bodies swimming upstream in the Great Bear Rainforest.

BC government signals challenge for Trans Mountain pipeline on legal grounds

The BC government’s announcement to challenge the Trans Mountain pipeline is welcome news for BC’s coast. Raincoast, with its partners, is already challenging the NEB and federal government oil tanker and pipeline approval …

Misty MacDuffee looks over the front of a boat on the Lower Fraser River.

Misty MacDuffee explains the lethal consequences of oil spills, tanker traffic and pipelines

Hear Misty MacDuffee on CFAX 1070 with Pamela McCall discussing oil spill risks to marine mammal conservation including Southern Resident killer whales…

A humpback whale slips into the water near the

BC’s marine mammals vulnerable to oil spills – especially killer whales

BC’s marine mammals are at high risk from oil spill impacts. Our understanding of this has been deepened by our newly published research paper that developed a framework to assess the impact of oil spills on marine mammals…

Killer whales in a tight formation on the BC coast.

New Raincoast research paper examines the “what if” of oil spills

New research examines 21 marine mammal species present in BC waters and ranked them according to the potential for deleterious consequences in the event of an oil spill…

Sea lions in the Great Bear Rainforest

Rachel Notley not winning hearts or minds in B.C.

With multiple lawsuits before the courts, including one by the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, and an anti-Trans Mountain provincial government taking power in British Columbia, Notley’s audacious guarantee seems intemperate at best. However, if Notley’s intention was to harden opposition in B.C. to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain expansion…

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