skip to main content

J50 and her family. Photo by NOAA/CORI

If Southern Resident killer whales are to persist in the Salish Sea decisive steps producing substantive reductions in threats must be taken.

Southern Resident killer whales are critically endangered. This declining population of 72 animals has very low birth rates and premature deaths of adult whales. Their salmon food supply is in decline, their waters are noisy and polluted, and measures to reduce these threats have been inadequate.  The birth of two calves in 2019 offers hope, but threats that impede their successful feeding and Chinook abundance must be addressed for recovery to occur.

 

A decade of action by Raincoast

Raincoast has been using science, the courts and public education to further recovery efforts for endangered Southern Resident killer whales.  Read more on our history of legal and scientific action over the last decade.

The crisis for whales

In September 2018, a population of 74 Southern Resident killer whales had seen no successful calves since 2015. A 2017 study on their birth rates found nearly 70 per cent of detected pregnancies failed due to nutritional stress associated with lack of prey.  Lack of prey is due to both the abundance of Chinook and boat noise and disturbance that interferes with their ability to successfully catch them.

Raincoast’s population viability assessment and those conducted by government scientists indicate SRKWs face a 25% to 49% risk of extinction (respectively) in the next 100 years if their threats aren’t reduced.

The good news is they can recover if we reduce vessel disturbance and increase the abundance of Chinook salmon. However, proposed cure-alls like more hatchery salmon and killing seals have little scientific basis 1. But there is a path to recovery. Help us compel government to act.

Our recommendations to the Canadian government

  • Close marine commercial and recreational Chinook fisheries on Southern migrating Chinook
  • Establish protected Southern Resident feeding refuges free from fishing and whale watching
  • End commercial and private whale watching on Southern Resident killer whales
  • Implement noise reduction targets from commercial vessels travelling in critical habitat
  • Address the cumulative impact of vessel traffic

in 2018, Raincoast and our partners (represented by Ecojustice), filed a lawsuit asking the Federal Court to review the ministers’ failure to recommend an emergency order. In December 2018, the ministers responsible for killer whales (DFO & ECCC) recommended an Emergency Order. Cabinet declined this request.

Below are the submissions outlining the emergency steps we identified in early 2018.  After these efforts failed and three more whales died, we modified our request to include full closures on marine Chinook fisheries and an end to whale watching of Southern Residents.

Our submissions to Washington State & US governments

Our recommendations on Chinook abundance and sustainable fisheries

Most populations of wild Chinook salmon in British Columbia are in crisis. This crisis is not just about numbers of Chinook relative to recent baselines, it extends to their size, their fecundity (how many eggs females carry), their run timing, their age structure, and in many places, their genetic diversity. In 2018, we made submissions to DFO on the need to address Chinook harvest and implement threat reduction for Southern Residents.

Our 2018 recommendations follow on 10 years of effort by Raincoast and our partners in who have critiqued Chinook salmon management plans. Download our critiques and comments on these fisheries.

Our assessment of critical habitat and Population Viability

Population Viability Analysis

Raincoast has conducted two Population Viability Analyses (PVAs) on the SRKWs. A PVA can evaluate and rank threats to wildlife populations and assesses the effectiveness of recovery options. The first PVA (PDF) (2015) focused on the implications of the proposed Trans Mountain Expansion seven-fold increase in oil tanker traffic through the Salish Sea and its implications for noise and disturbance, potential oil spills and potential ship strikes. The second PVA was published in 2017 in Scientific Reportsit addresses primary cumulative threats.

  • RCF 2017 PVA  This PVA evaluated the primary threats facing SRKWs (for Sci. Rep)
  • RCF 2015 PVA focused on the increased threat posed by the TMX (for NEB Round I)
  • RCF 2018 PVA updated population demographics given recent deaths (for NEB Round II)

The Southern Resident population has experienced very low population growth over the past four decades and has declined in the last two decades. Our PVA shows that SRKWs could be functionally extinct (less than 30 individuals) within a century existing under conditions. A similar analysis by Fisheries and Oceans Canada came to a similar conclusion. Conversely, reducing vessel traffic (small and large boat noise and disturbance) and increasing Chinook abundance increases their likelihood of long-term survival. Both PVAs were conducted by an international team of renowned conservation scientists.

Acoustic disturbance from vessel traffic

This expert testimony/report submitted by Raincoast to the National Energy Board in 2015 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)

Donate now and help us save killer whales

Donate now 


Related posts

L121 and calf in the Salish Sea.

NEB recommends Trans Mountain proceed despite “significant adverse effects” to Southern Residents

The National Energy Board (NEB) has recommended that the Trans Mountain expansion project should proceed despite the “significant adverse effects” of oil tankers on the critically endangered population of Southern ...
Read more
Killer Whales in the foreground and text: Victoria April 18 Panel

Panel: the future of killer whale recovery

Join us this April, either in person or on online, as we discuss the challenges ahead in the recovery of the endangered Southern Resident killer whales. With the Southern Resident ...
Read more
Killer whales spyhop with a tanker in the background and population viability maps in the foreground.

The National Energy Board and killer whales, on As It Happens

While we are glad that the NEB recognizes that the project will have significant adverse effects on Southern Resident killer whales, we don’t agree that Trans Mountain’s purported benefits are ...
Read more
J16 spy hops: Southern Resident killer whale.

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

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 ...
Read more
Beam Reach Haro Strait Salish Sea, with a map of the Southern Resident killer whale critical habitat and the tanker route tot he Trans Mountain Expansion Burnaby terminal.

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

The National Energy Board is now preparing its recommendations to cabinet on the Trans Mountain Expansion. When we won our legal case in the federal court of appeal in August ...
Read more
Seals hanging out on a rocky outcropping, soaking up some sunshine.

Seals and sea lions in the Salish Sea are all part of a healthy food web

Since the killing of seals and sea lions ended in the 1970s, pinnipeds in the Salish Sea have been recovering. The recovery of seals slowed by 2000 and for the ...
Read more
The Achiever with a misty mountain in the background.

April conservation expedition with Raincoast’s Dr. Paul Paquet

This April we are partnering with Bluewater Adventures for a unique trip through the Canadian Gulf Islands and the Salish Sea, which will feature Raincoast’s Dr. Paul Paquet as the ...
Read more
Southern Resident killer whales swim by in the Salish Sea.

Southern Resident killer whales need more than luck

The Southern Resident killer whales were in need of some good fortune. It came on January 10th with the appearance of a new calf, L124, whose sex is unknown and ...
Read more
A Southern Resident killer whale slaps their tail in the Salish Sea.

L124 is the newest member of the Southern Resident killer whales

Listen to Misty MacDuffee explain some of the context around the recent birth of L124 in the Salish Sea. Declines in Chinook abundance, especially to the Fraser, are affecting killer ...
Read more
Southern Resident killer whales J50 with her sister, J42, in July of 2018, swim by in the Salish Sea.

Misty MacDuffee joins Adam Stirling on CFAX 1070 to discuss Washington State’s billion dollar plan to aid killer whale recovery

Misty MacDuffee and Adam Stirling discuss the benefits and the shortcomings of Washington’s investment, the problem with dams, aid to Chinook hatcheries and new hatchery production. They discuss the genetic ...
Read more
A Southern Resident killer whales, J50, glides through the water in the Salish Sea.

Chinook salmon, 74 killer whales, and the future of the Salish Sea

2018 closes with just 74 Southern Resident killer whales remaining in the world. You’ve been with us through a year of huge wins and some heartbreaking losses and it’s worth ...
Read more

Southern Resident killer whales are on the precipice

This past summer, the world’s attention was focused on the critically endangered Southern Resident killer whales that inhabit the Salish Sea and its outside coastal waters. Tahlequah (J35) carried her ...
Read more