VANCOUVER ISLAND, B.C – Canada is getting serious about re-establishing endangered whale populations from coast to coast.

According to a press release, the Government of Canada is adding to the Oceans Protection Plan, focusing on restoring marine ecosystems to help in recovering depleted whale species.  

The plan, called ‘Canada’s Whales Initiative’, was announced earlier today in Vancouver by Minister of Transport, Marc Garneau and Jonathan Wilkinson, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change.

The initiative, operating under a $167.4 million budget, aims at protecting and supporting the Southern Resident Killer Whale, the North Atlantic Right Whale and the St. Lawrence Estuary Beluga Whale.

The press release states that the government has determined four major threats to the Southern Resident Whale in the Salish Sea; lack of prey, disturbance from vessels, including noise and pollution from land-based sources.

The whale initiative puts new regulations into action, many starting this summer, that address the threat factors.  

Improving prey availability for the Southern Resident Killer Whales by:

  • Reducing the total fishery removal for Chinook salmon by 25-35 per cent, to help increase prey availability;
  • Implementing mandatory fishery closures in specific areas where  whales forage for food by closing these areas to recreational finfishing and commercial salmon fishing, and exploring the use of additional regulatory measures; and
  • Increasing scientific research, monitoring and controls of contaminants in whales and their prey, and funding additional research on prey availability.

Reducing disturbance from underwater vessel noise by:

  • Imposing a new mandatory requirement for all marine vessels (including recreational boats) to stay at least 200 metres away from killer whales, effective July 11, 2018;
  • Asking vessels to move further away from key foraging grounds within shipping lanes of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, with the help of the U.S. Coast Guard, and partnering with the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) program on a voluntary vessel slowdown in Haro Strait starting in July 2018;
  • Working with BC Ferries to develop a noise management plan to reduce underwater noise impacts of its fleet on killer whales; and
  • Developing the necessary tools to implement mandatory measures where needed to reduce noise from vessel traffic, such legislation if required.

Enhancing monitoring under the water and in the air by:

  • Adding to the under-water hydrophone network in the Salish Sea to  better measure noise impacts and track the noise profile of individual vessels; and
  • Increasing aerial surveillance patrols through the Transport Canada’s National Aerial Surveillance Program, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Fisheries Aerial Surveillance and Enforcement Program to better monitor and enforce new measures.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada is also undertaking a Whale Innovation Challenge initiative in partnership with Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre to develop solutions towards real-time detection and location of whales.