Experts gather to brainstorm on southern resident whale recovery
VANCOUVER — 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.
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 whalewatching industry,” Barre said.
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.” REDISCOVER THE JOY OF SOUND
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.
HALIFAX — African-Nova Scotian organizers say it’s time for a centuries-overdue discussion about Canada’s legacy of slavery, its lasting harms on black Canadians and potential forms of reparation.
“Canada is lagging behind (many countries) on the reparations issue because we haven’t had enough support from the government,” says Lynn Jones, who chairs the Nova Scotia chapter of the Global Afrikan Congress. “We’re having these conversations around the province ... and if the government were in tune, the government would be doing this.”
In the absence of a clear national commitment to address Canada’s role in the transatlantic slave trade, Jones says she was encouraged by a recent UN report recommending that the federal government apologize for slavery and consider issuing reparations.
Representatives for federal Heritage Minister Melanie Joly, who is responsible for the multiculturalism portfolio, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Isaac Saney, a historian who teaches black studies at Dalhousie University, says any meaningful dialogue about reparations must begin with an acknowledgment of what he calls the “original sin” of anti-black racism in Canada — the enslavement of thousands of people of African descent between the 16th and 19th centuries.
“Slavery is the dead hand that has shaped a society,” says Saney. “Slavery no longer exists, but the processes ... (that) put it into motion have continued in one form or another into the present.”
Slavery was abolished in the British colonies in the 1830s, but Saney says its legacy set the stage for later injustices against black Canadians — such as segregation, anti-black immigration policies and present-day social inequities — by establishing a precedent for treating people of African descent as “non-citizens.”
This legacy has particular resonance for African-Nova Scotians, a “significant” portion of whom can trace their lineage back to slaves, Saney says.
Jones, who has lent her voice to reparations efforts around the world, sees Nova Scotia’s history as all the more reason why the province should lead the Canadian charge for slavery reparations.
She says her group has met with African-Nova Scotian Affairs Minister Tony Ince to make their case, but she feels the provincial government has yet to seriously engage on the issue.
Ince could not be reached for comment, but told the CBC in an e-mail that these are complex issues that need to be discussed at all levels of government.
While government officials drag their feet, Jones says, she has been working with other organizers and community members to brainstorm ideas for what reparations could look like in a Canadian context.
“At the centre, there needs to be an apology, because everything kind of leads from that,” she says.
Jones says the residual effects of slavery on African-Canadians have been far-reaching, and the government’s approach to redressing these harms should be just as comprehensive.
She says reparations should include government efforts to support African-Canadians such as education programs, economic development, funding community initiatives, housing subsidies and criminal justice reforms.
Compensation for people of African descent should be another form of reparations, says Jones, but she believes the amount should be determined on an ongoing basis.
“Money is one small aspect of the whole picture,” Jones says. “How do you put a dollar on every single part of somebody’s life?”
Two southern resident killer whales are seen in this undated handout photo. 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.