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DFO gathers public input on preservation of southern resident killer whale species

VANCOUVER ISLAND, B.C. – The Department of Fisheries and Oceans continues to take steps towards protecting the dwindling southern resident killer whale population.

On Tuesday, DFO officials were in Langford for a public meeting, where they gathered feedback on the protection and recovery of the endangered southern resident killer whales.

There are currently just 75 southern killer whales remaining in the world.

In a statement, the DFO said the plan is to have additional measures in place by the time the whales usually return to the Salish Sea in greater numbers in late spring.

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“Positive outcomes for the southern resident killer whale population can be best achieved by making evidence-based decisions, managing adaptively and working in collaboration with stakeholders and marine users,” the DFO added in the statement.

“The critical habitat of southern resident killer whale is in both Canadian and U.S. territorial waters. Therefore, we will coordinate closely with U.S. agencies in implementing and moving towards mandatory measures to reduce the impact of underwater vessel noise on these whales.”

In December 2018, the federal government announced the creation of two new areas of critical habitat to protect the species.

The identified areas are located in the waters off the coast of southwestern Vancouver Island, including Swiftsure and La Pérouse Banks, and in western Dixon Entrance, all of which are key foraging areas for both northern and southern killer whales.

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These new zones increases the area of critical habitat for endangered killer whales by roughly 6,419 square kilometers to an area of approximately 10,714 square kilometres of Canadian waters.

According to a government release, designating these areas as “critical habitat” ensures they are legally protected against destruction that could hinder survival or recovery of the whales.

Measures also already in place include expanding vessel slowdowns, enhancing regulatory controls on contaminants, and investments aimed at protecting and recovering Chinook salmon stocks, which are the southern resident killer whales’ main food source.

Federal Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard minister Jonathan Wilkinson said the new areas build on existing critical habitat established in 2009 to protect the marine ecosystem that is necessary for the survival and recovery of the southern resident killer whales.

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This December announcement built on the $167 million Whales Initiative announced in 2018 and the October 2018 investment of $61.5 million targeting key threats faced by the southern resident killer whale, including:

  • lack of available prey (Chinook salmon);
  • fines for those who fail to stay 200 metres away from the whales on the West Coast;
  • acoustic and physical disturbance from marine vessels; and
  • contaminants in the water.
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