Endangered Species

Ecojustice and the Southern Resident Orca Whales

Dyna Tuytel, a Barrister & Solicitor at Ecojustice in Calgary, has had a lifelong interest and concern about environmental issues. Following an undergraduate Arts degree, she attended law school to pursue a career in environmental law. She has loved whales since she was a kid, and is particularly excited about issues around whales. She recently shared some insights about the campaign to save the Southern resident orca whales in the Salish Sea.

These whales are a very well-studied population of whales. Researchers even know each of them by name. But all is not well for the whales. Their numbers have been reduced to just 76 members, and they need help to survive.

There are 3 widely agreed upon threats facing the orcas, Dyna told me. They are:

  • Contamination/pollution
  • The lack of food – they eat Chinook salmon, which are being overfished and orcas have trouble accessing through the third threat
  • Acoustic and sound pollution interferes with the whales’ hunting ability – they need a quiet environment and the Salish Sea is too noisy and getting noisier

Conservation groups have a recovery strategy, and the federal government can require certain actions to be done so the orca whales gain a more solid foothold as a species. When a species faces imminent threats to its survival or recovery, the federal government has the power to issue an emergency order under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. Emergency orders are a powerful tool that can be tailored to a species’ specific needs.

With the emergency order, the groups are asking for several immediate practical actions:

  • Quickly reduce noise in the area
  • Reduce fisheries and the competition between fishing and the whales
  • Put restrictions on whale watching around feeding refuges, and enforce a 300 meter buffer between ships and the whales
  • Take measures to make ships follow speed limits, and reroute them into the center of Georgia Strait away from the shoreline kelp forests where whales hunt

Dyna and colleague Margot Fenton have prepared a petition on behalf of Raincoast Conservation Foundation, Georgia Strait Alliance, David Suzuki Foundation, World Wildlife Fund, and Natural Resources Defense Council. The petition calls on Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Dominic LeBlanc and Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna to respond to this crisis by recommending an emergency order under the Species at Risk Act.

The government has recognized the need for these changes, but foot dragging is a special problem for species at risk. The groups are requesting that the government formally designate a new area of protected habitat.

Help protect southern resident orcas by sending a letter to Minister LeBlanc and Minister McKenna. Without intervention, the whales are probably not going to survive, and you can help to make a difference for them.

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