Action needed now to restrict vessels in critical killer whale habitat, scientists warn
Government action is needed now, on an emergency basis, to restrict vessels within the critical habitat of endangered southern resident killer whales, marine scientists warned Thursday in Vancouver.
“There are some shortterm things that can be done — they’re practical, well-supported and cautionary,” Vancouver Aquarium whale researcher Lance BarrettLennard told a federally sponsored symposium on the killer whales. “We’d better stop talking about them and start doing them.”
John Ford, an emeritus federal scientist who now teaches at the University of B.C., agreed that sport fishing and whale-watching boats can physically interfere with the whales’ ability to hunt, including their key summer prey, chinook salmon.
“They need space,” he said. “If there is a flotilla of boats around them, no matter what (the boats are) doing ... they represent physical obstacles in these key spots.”
In Washington state, there is a strict law that prohibits boats from approaching killer whales within 200 yards, yet on the B.C. side of the Salish Sea, there is only a guideline of 100 metres and a hardto-prove prohibition against harassing or disturbing the whales.
Barrett-Lennard said it is time for Canada to adopt similar restrictions and for governments to rein in the commercial whale-watching industry, based out of areas such as Victoria, Vancouver, Seattle, and the San Juan Islands.
“I’ve seen tremendous improvements in the behaviour of the fleet,” he said, noting whale-watch companies can be strong advocates for the whales. “Yet, the fleet has become so large ... that we have a situation that must be addressed.”
Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau said options might include restrictions on speeds, shipping lanes, and measures to reduce noise levels. “The first thing you do is the science, understand the problem, and then take the necessary action.”