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.

Just Posted

Valdy gives volunteers a hand after Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival

Celebrated Canadian singer pitched in alongside starstruck clean-up crew

Robbery tactic used on Salmon Arm senior not uncommon

RCMP advice comes after credit cards stolen at Walmart parking lot

Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival exceeds expectations

Artists, attendees and organizers praise effort behind successful event

Founder of Salmon Arm’s sister city exchange helps welcome Inashiki visitors

Twenty three Japanese guests visit city for a week, Salmon Arm to return in March

New attractions, rides and more lined up for Salmon Arm Fair

Event organizers invite community to be part of the growth

Memorial grows for teen who drowned in Okanagan Lake

Jaxsn Cahill drowned at Gellatly Bay Park in West Kelowna on Aug. 17

Groovy wedding a throwback to Woodstock ‘69

Couple hosts themed wedding 50 years after legendary festival

Okanagan mothers to share grief, spread awareness for Overdose Day

Moms Stop the Harm is hosting an event for International Overdose Awareness Day in Kelowna

Clean the house, prep for your next trip: Tips to nix the post-vacation blues

48 per cent of travellers are already stressed about ‘normal life’ while still on their trip

Latino-American rock ‘n’ roll band The Mavericks coming to the Okanagan

Kelowna is the only B.C. stop on the band’s worldwide tour

More women may need breast cancer gene test, U.S. guidelines say

Recommendations aimed at women who’ve been treated for BRCA-related cancers and are now cancer-free

Couple could go to jail for taking 88 lbs. of Italian sand

Pair said they didn’t know it was illegal to take the sand, which is protected as a public good

‘Ghost bike’ memorial installed where Okanagan cyclist was killed by truck

Ernie Gabbs, 69, died at the corner of Dillworth Drive and Harvey Avenue in Kelowna on Aug. 12

Most Read