Experts gather in Vancouver to think on southern resident whale recovery

Symposium is part of Ottawa’s ocean protection plan

When Lynne Barre feels discouraged about the recovery effort of the southern residents killer whale population, she calls her colleague who does a school program about the orcas to see if she can sit in on a class.

The children are well informed about the whales, said Barre, who is the recovery co-ordinator for southern resident killer whales with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.

“They know what extinction means and they really care. That’s really inspiring.”

The latest endeavour for the recovery effort of the whales — listed as endangered in the United States and species at risk in Canada — comes this week to Vancouver where scientists, industry, Indigenous groups, government officials and others meet Oct. 11-12 in a symposium looking for solutions.

The symposium is being held as part of the federal government’s Oceans Protection Plan that was announced last November.

READ: Ottawa promised better whale protections in Oceans Protection Plan

The last census for southern residents completed in July showed there were just 77 in the three pods that make up the population. Barre said that figure could be even smaller because a young male disappeared recently from J pod after he was spotted by a drone looking very skinny.

She said there are three key areas to focus on for the whale’s recovery: their prey, chemical contaminants and vessel disturbances.

Southern residents and their northern resident cousins are unique because their diet consists mainly of chinook salmon. The whales live long and their bodies store chemicals such as DDT that has long been banned from use.

NOAA has been encouraging Canada to adopt similar regulations as those in the U.S. that protect the whales from vessel noise or strikes, Barre said.

Watching the killer whales has spawned a lucrative tourism industry in the waters off B.C. and Washington state.

The American government brought in regulations in 2011 stopping vessels from going within 200 yards, or 182 metres, from the whales. Vessels aren’t allowed to go in the path of the whales or try to intercept them.

“We’ve found that it has benefited the whales and it hasn’t had an economic impact on the whale-watching industry,” Barre said.

READ: Young endangered orca dies off B.C. coast

Canada proposed similar regulations five years ago, but they haven’t yet been passed. Under the current guidelines, a person can still be charged for disturbing a whale, but the burden of proof for any allegations is on the Department of Fisheries.

Barre said she believes both countries should align their regulations.

“I think it would help with protection of the whales, it would make education messages to boaters much simpler and I think we could improve compliance with trans-boundry regulations that were similar.”

Noise from ships, especially the smaller, fast-moving vessels, seems to interfere with the whales echolocation which helps them hunt and navigate, she said.

“These are acoustic animals and they use sound to find their food.”

No one from the Transport Canada or the Department of Fisheries and Oceans was available to comment on the regulatory changes.

The Vancouver Port Authority launched a vessel slowdown trial over the summer in at the south end of Vancouver Island in the Haro Straight — the summer feeding ground for southern residents. The goal was to better understand the relationship between vessel speed, underwater noise and their effects on killer whales.

Underwater microphones were set up and ships were asked to cut their speed.

Barre said she’ll be interested to learn about the findings of the study.

While experts have been studying these whales for decades, she said there are still some gaps in knowledge.

She said suction cups with acoustic tags attached to the whales have led researchers to determine that the noise from boats and other sounds are affecting their foraging behaviour. Drones have also been used to fly over and assess the health of the whales.

The population of the pods has hovered around 80 animals over the last few decades, but Barre remains is optimistic for the whales’ recovery.

“I’m hopeful because they have shown their ability to be resilient in the past. We did live captures of these animals for public display back in the 1960s and 1970s, following that, they had a long, demonstrated population increase. That was encouraging reaching close to 100 whales.”

Terri Theodore , The Canadian Press

Just Posted

COS urges compliance in wake of province-wide drive for enforcement

The COS has undertaken a province-wide project focused on enforcement as well as education.

B.C. offers early retirement, training fund for forest workers

Communities eligible for $100,000 for permanent closures

UPDATE: Missing mushroom picker located in Anahim Lake area

The mushroom picker was from Ulkatcho First Nation

Prince Rupert’s ferry issue is a North Coast issue, MLA Rice

Prince Rupert not alone in fight to save ferry to Ketchikan: Alaskan Rep. Ortiz

First Nations given max compensation for Ottawa’s child-welfare discrimination

2016 ruling said feds didn’t give same funding for on-reserve kids as was given to off-reserve kids

‘I shouldn’t have done it,’ Trudeau says of brownface photo

Trudeau says he also wore makeup while performing a version of a Harry Belafonte song

35 of 87 dogs in 2018 Williams Lake seizure were euthanized due to behavioural issues, BCSPCA confirm

The dogs did not respond to the behaviour modification and remained terrified of humans

B.C. ‘tent city’ disputes spark call for local government autonomy

UBCM backs Maple Ridge after province overrules city

B.C. drug dealers arrested after traffic stop near Banff turns into helicopter pursuit

Antonio Nolasco-Padia, 23, and Dina Anthony, 55, both well-known to Chilliwack law enforcement

B.C. MLA calls on province to restrict vaping as first related illness appears in Canada

Todd Stone, Liberal MLA for Kamloops-South Thompson, introduced an anti-vaping bill in April

Chilliwack woman wins right to medically assisted death after three-year court battle

Julia Lamb has been the lead plaintiff in a legal battle to ease restrictions on Canada’s assisted dying laws

B.C. bus crash survivor petitions feds to fix road where classmates died

UVic student’s petition well over halfway to 5k signature goal

Most Read