Whales Initiative: Protecting the Southern Resident Killer Whale
Building on the Oceans Protection Plan, the Government of Canada is keeping its promise to protect and support the recovery of Canada's endangered, iconic whale populations. As announced in Budget 2018, the Government of Canada introduced a 5-year, $167.4 million Whales Initiative.
The Southern Resident Killer Whale is a vital component of the local marine ecosystem and has cultural significance for Indigenous Peoples and coastal communities in British Columbia. This population of whale was recently determined to be facing an imminent threat to both survival and recovery under the Species at Risk Act. This determination was made after an assessment that considered the biological condition of the Southern Resident Killer Whale population, ongoing threats, and mitigation measures.
Through the Whales Initiative, the Government of Canada is addressing the main threats to the Southern Resident Killer Whales by:
- Improving prey availability for the Southern Resident Killer Whale
- Reducing disturbance from underwater vessel noise
- Enhancing monitoring under the water and in the air
- Encouraging compliance and strengthening enforcement
- Building partnerships for additional action
Improving prey availability for the Southern Resident Killer Whales
Increasing prey availability
Chinook are one of the primary food sources for the Southern Resident Killer Whales, and wild populations of Chinook salmon have declined dramatically in recent years. On October 11, 2018, the Government of Canada launched the International Year of the Salmon to protect Pacific wild salmon. This included a five-year plan outlining concrete actions the Government will take to help rebuild Pacific wild salmon populations and their habitats. This past summer, the Government of Canada announced a reduction in the total fishery removals for Chinook salmon of 25-35 per cent to help conserve this important species and increase prey availability for Southern Resident Killer Whales.
Protecting areas where whales forage
The Southern Resident Killer Whale's foraging areas are vital and in decline of the food they need to survive. The Government of Canada is implementing fishery closures to recreational finfishing and commercial salmon fishing in specific areas where whales forage for food. Closures in portions of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and portions of the Gulf Islands, and partial closures in the mouth of the Fraser River will protect key foraging areas for these whales.
Increasing research in contaminants
The Government of Canada will increase monitoring and research to improve our understanding of the sources and possible impacts of contaminants on whales and their prey. This will include air and fresh water monitoring within whale habitat, as well as monitoring of potential contaminant sources such as landfills.
By 2020, the Government of Canada will put in place stronger controls on contaminants impacting whales, including polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which are a family of flame retardants, and other contaminants affecting whales.
Reducing disturbance from underwater vessel noise
Keeping a distance
New rules for whale watching and approaching marine mammals were published in the Canada Gazette, Part II, on July 11, 2018. These amendments make it possible for anyone in contravention of the Regulations to be charged with an offence under the Fisheries Act. The amendments provide a minimum approach distance of 100 metres for most whales, dolphins and porpoises to legally protect these animals from human disturbances. On the West Coast, the approach distance is 200 metres for all killer whale populations in B.C. and the Pacific Ocean. The regulations apply to all boaters including commercial and recreational boaters.
The Government of Canada is working with the shipping industry, United States partners, and Indigenous Peoples, to implement a trial whereby vessel traffic were asked to transit away from key foraging areas by moving further south within existing shipping lanes in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
The Government of Canada partnered with the Vancouver Port Authority's Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program to develop a trial vessel slowdown during the summer of 2017 in Haro Strait. This trial vessel slowdown achieved significant reductions in underwater noise affecting the Southern Resident Killer Whale in that area. Building on this success, the Government of Canada and the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority's ECHO Program, the shipping industry, marine pilots, Indigenous Peoples, and partners in the United States put in place a voluntary vessel slowdown in Haro Strait during the summer of 2018.
The voluntary measure formally began on July 12th, 2018, once whales were detected in Haro Strait, and will stay in place up to October 31st, depending on the continued presence of Southern Resident Killer Whales in Haro Strait.
Marine industries and other stakeholders have been proactive in taking measures to understand and reduce impacts of vessel traffic on the Southern Resident Killer Whale. Voluntary measures, such as last year's slowdown trial in Haro Strait, this year's voluntary measures in both Haro Strait and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and BC Ferries noise management plan, are testaments to the success of voluntary measures.
Noise management plan
BC Ferries is showing the way by voluntarily developing a noise management plan to reduce its fleet's overall noise over time.
We are continuing to implement adaptive, voluntary measures, which have proven successful. The Government will also require Canadian fleet owners and operators to develop plans for reducing underwater noise from their fleets over time, should voluntary measures prove insufficient.
Salmon closure areas
The Government of Canada is implementing fishery closures to recreational finfishing and commercial salmon fishing in specific areas where whales forage for food.
Closures in portions of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and portions of the Gulf Islands, and partial closures in the mouth of the Fraser River will protect key foraging areas for these whales.
The Government of Canada and the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority's ECHO Program, the shipping industry, marine pilots, Indigenous Peoples, and partners in the United States will put in place a voluntary vessel slowdown in Haro Strait during the summer of 2018.
The Government of Canada is working with the shipping industry, United States partners, and Indigenous Peoples, to develop a trial whereby vessel traffic will be asked to transit away from key foraging areas by moving further south within existing shipping lanes in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Enhancing monitoring under the water and in the air
The Government of Canada deployed hydrophones at Boundary Pass in the Salish Sea to measure underwater noise in the Southern Resident Killer Whale's critical habitat. These resources will provide us with better capacity to measure noise impacts and track the noise profiles of individual vessels. This will also allow us to continue to research and assess how effective are noise reduction measures.
Eyes in the sky
The Government of Canada will expand Transport Canada's fleet of the National Aerial Surveillance Program, including state of the art radar and infra-red sensors for all of the program's aircraft. Additionally, Fisheries and Oceans Canada will increase aerial patrols by 30 per cent under the Fisheries Aerial Surveillance and Enforcement program. The increased patrols in the Southern Resident Killer Whale's critical habitat will verify compliance with distance and disturbance provisions of the updated regulations and enforce fisheries closures.
Putting more eyes in the sky will increase whale monitoring and protect whales from vessel traffic. This will also provide government officials the ability to collect additional pollution detection data.
Encouraging compliance and strengthen enforcement
Education and awareness
The Government of Canada is investing $415,000 over three years in education and awareness among recreational boaters. The Government of Canada will partner with local organizations to help small craft operators learn how they can reduce negative impacts on the Southern Resident Killer Whales.
In partnership with the Research Cetus and Conservation Society, the Government of Canada will work with non-governmental organizations such as Straitwatch in waters around Victoria and the Southern Gulf Islands, as well as boating, sailing, and other recreational user organisations to increase their awareness of the negative impacts smaller crafts can have on the Southern Resident Killer Whale.
More enforcement on the water
The Government of Canada is also expanding and strengthening Fisheries and Oceans Canada's compliance and enforcement capacity through an $11.4 million investment. New fishery officers will be on the water verifying compliance with fisheries management measures, updated Marine Mammal Regulations, and will enforce the disturbance and harassment provisions of the regulations and the Species at Risk Act.
Fishery officers have been engaged in outreach and education activities with whale watching and guiding companies in the South Coast area to make them aware of the need to protect the Southern Resident Killer Whale. They advise them of areas where whales are likely to be present and also to promote compliance with the Marine Mammal Regulations.
The Government of Canada has implemented changes to the mandatory content of the course and test for obtaining a Pleasure Craft Operator Card. The updated requirements will include information pertaining to whale safety, such as: encouraging boaters to use caution in areas where whales may be (as whales can surface unexpectedly); slowing down in the presence of whales; and giving whales plenty of space. The Government of Canada amended the Marine Mammal Regulations making the minimum approach distance 200 metres for all killer whale populations in B.C. and the Pacific Ocean.
Enforcement of environmental regulations
The Government of Canada will strengthen its regulatory controls on contaminants. These changes will help reduce contaminants affecting the killer whales.
Building partnerships for additional action
The Government of Canada will continue working with Indigenous Peoples, members of ECHO, the marine industry, and other governments to develop additional measures needed to secure the recovery of the Southern Resident Killer Whale.
The $1.5 billion Oceans Protection Plan is the largest investment ever made to protect Canada's coasts and waterways. Through this plan, the Government of Canada is creating a world-leading marine safety system that provides economic opportunities for Canadians today, while protecting our coasts and waterways for generations to come. This work is being done in partnership with Indigenous Peoples, and in close collaboration with local stakeholders and coastal communities.
These partnerships, allow us to share best practices and lessons learned on actions required to develop the necessary tools to implement mandatory measures where needed. Working together is essential to protect and help in the recovery of one of Canada's most iconic species.