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Seismic survey threatens endangered whales

SIDNEY – As the oceans become quieter amidst the global pandemic, an application for seismic surveys off the West Coast of Vancouver Island threatens the recovery of endangered Southern Resident killer whales. This week, in response, a coalition of conservation groups has written to the federal minister of Fisheries and Oceans to inform her that approval of the application would be illegal under the Species at Risk Act.

Recently, the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University requested a permit under the federal Species at Risk Act to conduct geophysical surveys in the habitat of the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales. The seismic survey will produce high-intensity sound from an array of towed air guns through Southern Resident habitat, including areas designated as critical habitat. With only 72 remaining, the Southern Resident Killer whales are endangered under the Species at Risk Act. In May 2018, the government announced these whales face imminent threats to their survival and recovery.

“The Species at Risk Act is clear that the Minister cannot permit any activity that would further jeopardize the critically endangered Southern Resident killer whales,” said Margot Venton, Nature Program Director and lawyer at Ecojustice, which represents the groups.

The conservation organizations, David Suzuki Foundation, Georgia Strait Alliance; Natural Resources Defense Council, Raincoast Conservation Foundation and the World Wildlife Fund Canada, have worked to protect the Southern Residents for more than a decade. They have pushed adoption, implementation, and enforcement of measures to reduce threats and protect Southern Residents and their critical habitat.

“Government, Canadian industry, and other stakeholders have been taking significant steps to reduce disturbance and harassment of these critically endangered whales,” said Michael Jasny, Director of Marine Mammal Protection at the Natural Resources Defense Council. ‘This proposal for seismic testing undermines the efforts that Canada is making.”

“Southern resident killer whales are critically endangered, and multiple threats already prevent their recovery. With only 72 individuals remaining, we expect legal protections to be upheld against irresponsible proposals for seismic testing in their critical habitat,” said Hussein Alidina, WWF-Canada’s lead specialist, ocean conservation.

Jeff Foster of The Whale Sanctuary project coordinates the release of live fish during a trial.
Photo by NOAA.