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Killer whales in a tight formation on the BC coast.

Save the whales: A decade of action for Southern Residents

For the last 10 years, Raincoast has been using science, public education and the courts to try and protect Canada’s endangered population of salmon-eating killer whales. With their salmon stocks in decline and targeted by fisheries, and a noisy and polluted ocean, they face extinction under existing conditions. The good news is they can recover if these conditions are reversed.

10 years of 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).  The series of legal actions ended with a win (supreme court and the court of appeal) for critical habitat protection, at least on paper. The details of the critical habitat lawsuit (PDF) are here.

In 2016, Raincoast, again led by Ecojustice, filed a lawsuit to stop TransMountain’s 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.  A decision will be released in 2018. To read more about this critical court case.

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 other 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. A final Resident Killer Whale Action Plan (PDF) was released in 2017.

More salmon and less noise, disturbance, 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

Since 2015, Raincoast has conducted two Population Viability Analyses (PVAs) on the SRKWs. The first PVA (PDF) (2015) focused solely on the implications of Kinder Morgan’s proposed seven-fold increase in oil tanker traffic through the Salish Sea, which has implications for noise and disturbance, potential oil spills and potential ship strikes. It was submitted as expert testimony in the National Energy Board’s hearing reviewing the TransMountain proposed pipeline and oil tanker project.  The second PVA was published in 2017 in one of Nature’s journal’s Scientific Reportsit addresses primary cumulative threats.

Both PVAs were conducted by an international team of renowned scientists representing academic and conservation organizations in three countries.  The expertise included killer whale behaviour, ecology, bioacoustics, and population biology. A PVA can be a powerful analysis that evaluates and ranks threats to wildlife populations and assesses the likely effectiveness of recovery options. The PVAs assessed the viability of Southern Residents in light of their cumulative disturbances and threats, including salmon abundance, increased ocean noise and disturbance from vessel traffic, climate change, contaminants and oil spills.

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 existing conditions, and future conditions that further degrade habitat with more noise, less salmon, climate change or oil spills, lead to probable extinction with 100 years. Conversely, reducing vessel traffic (small and large boat noise and disturbance) and increasing Chinook abundance increases their likelihood of long-term survival.

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.

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

Southern Resident Killer Whales in the Salish Sea.

Raincoast’s Misty MacDuffee speaks with CFAX about endangered killer whales

Raincoast’s Misty MacDuffee speaks with CFAX’s Adam Stirling about Southern Resident killer whales and Raincoast’s new study that examines their future…

Southern Resident Killer Whales in the Salish Sea.

New research indicates increasing Chinook salmon abundance and reducing disturbance is essential for Southern Resident killer whale recovery

Our new study shows a 25% chance that these iconic whales could be lost within the next 100 years. With appropriate and resolute actions, however, this risk of extinction could be significantly reduced…

Population viability analysis graphs overlaying a Killer Whale

Research: Evaluating anthropogenic threats to endangered killer whales to inform effective recovery plans

The endangered Southern Resident killer whales (SRKWs) that inhabit the Pacific Coast of Canada and the United States are balancing on a knife-edge. New research conducted by an international team of renowned scientists representing academic and conservation organizations in three countries…

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…

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