Orcas in danger in Pacific
The West Coast's most iconic marine mammals - orcas or killer whales - are facing possible future extinction. What can we do ensure orca protection?
The West Coast’s most iconic marine mammals—orcas or killer whales—are under attack and facing many serious threats throughout their Pacific habitat.
Declining salmon stocks, increased boat traffic, toxic contamination, and acoustic impacts from dredging, seismic testing, and military sonar all threaten the orcas with extinction.
An order of protection
Late in 2008 a group of environmental organizations took the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to task with a lawsuit demanding protection for orca habitat. In response to the lawsuit the federal government issued a habitat protection order earlier this year under the Species at Risk Act.
“It’s the very first one ever issued under the Species at Risk Act, so it’s a precedent-setting order,” says Lara Tessaro of Ecojustice (formerly the Sierra Legal Defence Fund).
While this order marks a turnaround for the current Canadian government, environmentalists vow to monitor DFO progress and note that real action must be taken to ensure the order is enforced. Critical to the order’s success will be keeping oil tanker traffic out of orca territory.
Though it has been more than 20 years since the Exxon Valdez discharged its black blight on the coast of Alaska, spilling 38,000 tonnes of crude oil into the sheltered waters of picturesque Prince William Sound, the effects are still being felt. As much as 16,000 gallons of oil still linger in the sound.
Delegates to the annual Alaska Forum on the Environment recently reported on the continued decline of a local pod of killer whales. Twenty years ago, the population numbered 22 whales, while today only seven remain.
Now a new threat to the Pacific’s orca populations may be emerging. The Enbridge Northern Gateway Project is proposed to carry tar sands petroleum from near Edmonton across northern BC to Kitimat en route to markets in Asia and the west coast of the US—via “very large crude carriers?tankers up to 350 metres long and 50 metres wide. The Exxon Valdez, by comparison, was 300 metres long and 50 metres wide.
The project, which includes the construction of a supertanker terminal in Kitimat, would transport an estimated 525,000 barrels of oil per day and result in heavy oil tanker traffic along the rocky northern coastline of BC.
“They are proposing transporting almost half of the total production of the Alberta oil sands through the coast of BC—a lot of oil and hundreds of tankers. With that amount of oil comes a significant risk with spills at the port, from the tankers, and on the pipeline,” says Charles Campbell, communications director for Dogwood Initiative, an organization dedicated to sustainable land reform.
Needless to say, Dogwood Initiative’s concern over Enbridge’s proposed pipeline is shared by many in the environmental movement—even as they applaud the passage of the habitat protection order to protect the Pacific’s threatened orca populations.
Take orca protection into your own hands by adopting a whale—and there’s no need for a backyard swimming pool!
Instead surf over to killerwhale.org and commit to saving the whales by becoming a member of the BC Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program.
With adoption packages ranging from $64 to $500, sponsors receive a photo and biography of their whale along with other special benefits. Adoption funds are utilized to study orcas and their habitat in an effort to protect them better.