Canada is home to an iconic species of orcas known as Southern Resident Killer Whales, which are found in the waters of the Pacific Northwest near British Columbia. Over the years, the population of these whales has diminished severely, with only 75 of them remaining today.
The killer whales have been dying off due to a dwindling supply of Chinook salmon, which is their main food source. Human interference in the form of water contamination with industrial chemicals, overcrowding from boat traffic and excessive noise pollution has also contributed to the death of the whales overtime.
The Government of Canada vowed to protect the Southern Resident Killer Whales and announced three measures that they will take:
- Reduce total fishery removal of Chinook salmon by 25 to 35 per cent (to help increase prey availability for the killer whales)
- Close fisheries where whales typically feed
- Mandate all marine vessels, including recreational boats, to remain 200 metres away from killer whales at all times (begins July 11, 2018)
- Install underwater hydrophone system to track noise impacts of vessels
Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau also confirmed that $167.4 million would be put towards the recovery of the killer whales.
"The whales need our help," he said. "We must act now because the whales can't wait … Our long-term objective is to see those [numbers] grow.“
Will the 200-metre rule actually help?
Some whale watchers don’t believe the new rule that requires all marine vessels to keep a 200-metre distance from the killer whales will do much to help protect them.
The intention of the rule is good — it hopes to reduce the impact of vessels and the noise pollution they contribute on the foraging activity of the killer whales. Fines of up to $500,000 for breaking the rule also help to deter boaters from getting too close.
However, the whales have not been coming to typical sighting areas lately because they are off the West Coast feeding on salmon out there.
“Of 111 trips this year, we have only spotted southern residents nine times,” said Jim Dale of the Five Star Whale Watching company in Victoria. “They disappeared entirely here from April to June, and we just had the odd report of them offshore near Tofino.”
Perhaps once the government’s measure to increase Chinook salmon populations takes effect, the killer whales will return and the 200-metre rule will be more critical. For now, however, whale watchers still remain skeptical.