UPDATED: Conservation groups sue Ottawa to protect endangered killer whales

Only 75 southern resident killer whales are still alive in the world, often near the B.C. coast

Six conservation groups are suing the federal government over the protection of southern resident killer whales, saying the ministers in charge haven’t done enough to keep the endangered species alive.

Lawyers asked the Federal Court to review the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and Minister of Environment and Climate Change’s failure to recommend an emergency order to protect the whales, under the Species at Risk Act.

The application was filed Wednesday on behalf of the David Suzuki Foundation, Georgia Strait Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council, Raincoast Conservation Foundation and World Wildlife Fund Canada.

“Emergency orders are specifically designed for circumstances like this, when you have a species that needs more than delayed plans and half-measures to survive and recover,” said Christianne Wilhelmson, executive director at the Georgia Strait Alliance, in a news conference on Wednesday in downtown Vancouver.

“Securing an order is vital for the southern residents and their habitat, which is also home to an estimated 3,000 species of marine life.”

The six groups have repeatedly called for the government to protect the killer whales, including through a petition issued in January.

Requests for comment to Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna have not yet been returned.

READ MORE: Orca’s ‘tour of grief’ over after carrying dead calf around for nearly 3 weeks

OPINION: Mother orca’s display of grief sends powerful message

Southern resident killer whales are known to roam along the coastal waters from Vancouver Island to California.

The lawsuit comes less than a month after an orca mother gained international attention as she carried her deceased calf around on her nose for an unprecedented 17 days, as a way of grieving.

A young orca known as J50 has also been the focus of both U.S. and Canadian marine biologists after scientists determined she suffered from a disorder causing her to become severely emaciated and lethargic.

“We don’t want to start triaging individual orcas in order for this population to serve,” Wilhelmson said.

Conservationists have been meeting with the federal government since launching their petition, but Wilhelmson said not enough action has been taken.

In this Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018, photo released by the Center for Whale Research shows orca whales swimming near Friday Harbor, Alaska. J-35, in the foreground, chasing salmon with her pod on Saturday. The carcass of her newborn has likely sunk. (Center for Whale Research via AP)

The group has asked for whale watching to be banned, as well as the closure of all chinook salmon fisheries in foraging areas.

The government recently implemented a 200-metre mandatory threshold between vessels and orcas, and closed some – but not all – of the chinook fisheries in operation.

“They are doing these partial measures, which will make those measures ineffective,” Wilhelmson said. “Unless you do it across the board, you are going to weaken the impact.”

Other issues still not being dealt with, the group claimed, includes noise and disturbance issues from boats.

WATCH: Ailing orca J50 gets 2nd dart of antibiotics by B.C. vet

Last May, federal minister McKenna said the orcas face imminent threats to their survival and recovery. Since acknowledging the risk, the conservationists said, the ministers are now legally required to recommend Cabinet issue an emergency order under the Species at Risk Act, unless there are other legal measures already in place.

“It is shocking that Minister Wilkinson and Minister McKenna have not yet recommended an emergency order,” said Michael Jasny, director of marine mammal protection at Natural Resources Defense Council. “It is difficult to imagine a species in more urgent need.”


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Two inmates found positive for COVID-19 at Mission Institution; two other tests pending

15 staff self-isolating waiting results, says correctional officer

‘An extra $220 every 90 days’: B.C. patients pay more dispensing fees due to prescription limits

Kelowna woman says it’s outrageous to charge for refills every 30 days

COLUMN: The other graph that shows B.C. can beat COVID-19

Is the curve being flattened? data on hospitalizations provides a crucial answer.

Goose in Abbotsford rescued after legs wrapped up in fishing line

Wildlife centre operator says people need to be more careful

Van der Gulik, McLaren named to Abbotsford Sports Hall of Fame

Hockey pro, softball umpire headlining the 2020 class, which will now be celebrated on Sept. 26

‘Hold our line’: 29 new cases of COVID-19 announced in B.C.

Saturday’s number of new cases marks the lowest in weeks.

Exercises move online with YMCA’s new nationwide virtual workout program

YThrive Home offers dozens of free workout videos for people during COVID-19 self-isolation period

B.C. community service provider hosts friendly art competition for youth

Theme for Pacific Community Resources contest is ‘finding the silver lining in difficult times’

Critic, workers’ group ‘disappointed’ Trudeau chose Amazon to distribute PPE

Amazon Canada said in an email to The Canadian Press that it is working with Canada Post, Purolator

Full World COVID-19 update: National Guard collect ventilators in New York; Spain, Italy improve

Comprehensive coronavirus update with news from around the world.

TransLink to reduce service on some bus routes, SeaBus, West Coast Express

Changes start April 6 ‘due to low ridership and financial pressures’ amid COVID-19

Two people fined after B.C. police spot online ads re-selling 5,000 surgical, N95 masks

Police confiscated the masks, being sold at inflated prices, and now working with Fraser Health

Most Read