The new regulations focus on contaminants, noise, physical disturbances and access to prey.
Expanded protections for endangered southern resident killer whales off British Columbia’s coast focus on contaminants, noise, physical disturbances and accessibility of chinook salmon, the orca’s primary prey.
The actions announced by several government departments Thursday include a ban on tourist or whale watching vessels with over 12 passengers until the end of June, a measure aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Areas of the Juan de Fuca Strait and Southern Gulf Islands will be closed for recreational and commercial salmon fisheries, with specific dates announced in June, the federal government said.
All fish harvesters are being asked to voluntarily stop fishing within 1,000 metres of orcas in B.C. waters.
Interim sanctuary zones established last year for the whales off Pender and Saturna islands will be back up from June 1 to the end of November, a month longer than 2019.
Fisheries and Oceans says the population of the southern residents has fluctuated between 70 and 99 whales since 1976, and their small population size and lack of calves means the unique family of orcas is “facing imminent threats to their survival and recovery.”
Andrew Trites, the director of the marine mammal research unit at the University of British Columbia, said the orcas are in real trouble.
“Particularly with having so few births, having so few females in the population, having had a couple males dominate breeding, and then just all the added pressures put on the environment,” said Trites, pointing to ocean noise, dwindling fish stocks and the warming ocean.
No vessels will be permitted in sanctuary areas with the exceptions of emergency and Indigenous vessels, while boats are also prohibited from coming within 400 metres of any killer whale starting June 1, the federal government said.
There is an exception to that rule in place for whale watching and tourism companies that receive federal authorization, allowing them to view all whales except southern residents from 200 metres.
Vessels are also asked to reduce their speed within 1,000 metres of a whale and turn engines to neutral if a whale is within 400 metres, a measure the government said is in place year-round.
Officially, there are 73 southern residents, but the Centre for Whale Research in Washington state said the most prolific male is missing and presumed deceased.
These Southern Residents need all the help as you can understand!