Ac­tion needed now to re­strict ves­sels in crit­i­cal killer whale habi­tat, sci­en­tists warn

24 Hours Vancouver - - NEWS - LARRY PYNN

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.”

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