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Saving Lives That Matter

Saving our Southern Resident Killer Whales

The Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion has people passionately divided, but outside of the For/Against debate, there’s one voice that needed to be most heard: that of the Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW). They are in danger, and it was their voice that convinced the court to reconsider the Trans Mountain Pipeline project.

This was the message that Christie and I took home last week when we had the good fortune to attend a special event put on by Ecojustice, Canada’s largest environmental law charity. The speakers included Margot Venton (Lawyer and Program Director, Biodiversity, Ecojustice), Christianne Wilhelmson (Executive Director, Georgia Strait Alliance), and Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard (Director, Marine Mammal Research Program, Vancouver Aquarium). Each told stories about the challenges the whales face for their survival.

Unlike the common image you might conjure in your mind of environmentalists making fanatic impassioned speeches, these were scientists presenting the unvarnished, sobering facts about what is going on in our own back yard. (Spoiler alert: What’s going on is not good news for our whale friends.)

The Southern Resident Killer Whales are the whales you see from a BC ferry, when you take a whale-watching tour from Victoria or Vancouver, or if you’re one of the lucky few who happen across a pod of whales while sailing or boating around the gulf islands.

You might remember the heart wrenching news coverage last summer of J35, known as Talequah, the mother orca that mourned the death of her calf for 17 days. Her story was shown all over the world. Her calf was born and died on July 24—the death was another blow to the dwindling population of the SRKWs of the Salish Sea.

Why are Southern Resident Killer Whales Endangered?

Orcas themselves are not endangered but the subspecies know as SRKW are. Just 75 of these beautiful creatures remain, down from 82 since May 2016. The death of Talequah’s calf is concerning because, although the natural calf mortality rate is high (ranging from 50%–75 %), there has not been a successful calving by a SRKW since 2015.

This ecologically and culturally significant population faces three main threats:

  • Lack of Chinook salmon, the whales’ preferred prey
  • Acoustic and physical disturbance from noise
  • Contamination of the ecosystems where they live

Scientists agree that salmon shortages are the most urgent threat to the whales, leaving them at risk of malnutrition and even starvation.

Disturbance from vessels, including recreational boaters, fishing boats, commercial whale watching vessels, ferries, and shipping vessels, heightens this risk by interfering with the whales’ natural ability to hunt.

It was this second hazard that the courts recognized as a great risk to whale survival if the Kinder Morgen project were left to proceed, a threat that had not been addressed in the original NEB Environmental Assessment.

Ecojustice to the Rescue

Unknown to many of us, Ecojustice is quietly doing the hard lifting to save our whales through the courts, along with the other cases it has on its plate. They are working in collaboration with the David Suzuki Foundation, Georgia Strait Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, and World Wildlife Fund Canada to hold our government accountable.

What amazes me is that Ecojustice is in court suing the federal government to force the government to adhere to their own laws. How bizarre is that? Read more here.

We found Ecojustice through our membership in 1% For The Planet, and Cove is now a proud corporate supporter of Ecojustice and its efforts to save our killer whales. We believe that action through the courts is the most powerful way to make lasting change. Court actions are long and drawn out, but the results are lasting and meaningful.

We invite you to learn more about our whales, how you can help, and the work Ecojustice is doing to save this precious resource so that our grandchildren will be able to see a whale living in the wild.  What would life be like on the south coast of BC if the last ones were to die off? The word “sad” doesn’t really come close to describing it. Tragic. Especially because we (humans) are responsible for the whales’ plight.

Support Ecojustice here.

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