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Ottawa trying to figure out how to protect southern resident orcas

Last Updated Sep 10, 2017 at 9:31 am PST

(iStock Photo)
Summary

There are only a few dozen southern resident orcas left in the Salish Sea

Study underway to see if vessel noise affects the mammals

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – With the southern resident orca population perilously low, the federal government is arranging a conference to come up with ways to help. One of the key focuses of the upcoming symposium will be to determine just how dire the situation really is.

There are fewer than 80 southern resident orcas believed to be living in the Salish Sea, qualifying that group of whales as endangered.

Ottawa is hosting a symposium in Vancouver next month which will gather scientists, other experts and members of government in the hopes of coming up with ways to help that population rebound. “In cooperation with Fisheries and Oceans, we are involved in several initiatives to better understand the impact of underwater vessel noise on whales and to find ways to address the issue,” explains Transportation Minister Marc Garneau.

In July, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority announced it would look at how endangered southern resident killer whales respond to slower vessel speeds and reduced underwater noise in a key summer feeding area off southern British Columbia.

The port authority says 54 marine shipping companies have signed up to take part in the voluntary study between August and October in Haro Strait, the channel separating Vancouver Island from the San Juan Islands in Washington state.

This issue is particularly relevant with a big expansion of oil tanker traffic anticipated when the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is complete. Kinder Morgan says construction on the $7.4 billion project will begin later this month and should take up to 28 months to complete.

The project would triple capacity on the pipeline from the Edmonton area to Burnaby. The project was approved by the federal government last fall.