Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Killer Whale Protection

Feds boost protection for killer whales after being sued

Enlarged breach

The federal government is making it illegal to damage the habitat of critically endangered killer whales off the coast of B.C. — and a coalition of environmental groups is taking credit. The government issued an order under the Species at Risk Act this week that legally protects the areas where northeast Pacific northern and southern resident populations of killer whales live. It also enhances the government's ability conduct inspections and investigations and fine parties who damage those areas, although it does not include specifics about what would constitute damage. A coalition of environmental groups says a lawsuit they launched in October, which alleges the government failed to protect killer whales' habitat as required by law, prompted the government to issue the order on Monday. Jay Ritchlin, director of marine and freshwater conservation at the David Suzuki Foundation, one of the groups involved in the case, said he is glad the federal government has now decided to take this step. "And we're looking forward to a time when they do so without having to be sued first," he said in a statement. The order is the first ever made under the 2004 Species at Risk Act. It came after the government stated in September that it would rely on existing legislation to protect the killer whales. That prompted nine environmental groups represented by Lara Tessaro, a lawyer with the environmental law group Ecojustice Canada, to file the lawsuit against the government.

Review prompted order: official

Pardeep Ahluwalia, director general of the species at risk management program at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said government has reviewed the killer whale protection policy it issued in the fall, taking into account comments from stakeholders, including environmental groups. "We thought we could do better and so the protection order that we published this week was in response to our review," Ahluwalia said. "It's hard to say whether or not that [lawsuit] influenced our decision." Such reviews are standard when the government is working with new legislation such as the Species at Risk Act, he said. According to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans resident killer whale recovery team, the animals are threatened by declining salmon stocks, increased boat traffic, toxic contamination, and loud underwater noises from dredging. Recent counts show 85 individuals remain in the southern population and around 245 in the northern population.

The nine groups involved in the lawsuit are:

* Dogwood Initiative.
* Environmental Defence.
* David Suzuki Foundation.
* Raincoast Conservation Society.
* Sierra Club BC.
* International Fund for Animal Welfare.
* Greenpeace.
* Georgia Strait Alliance.
* Wilderness Committee.

Tessaro said Wednesday that while she is pleased with the government's order, she won't immediately drop the lawsuit. She wants to see the final, more detailed version of the order that is to be published in the Canada Gazette on March 4 and then consult with her clients before taking that step. "I'm quite sure that this lawsuit is what forced DFO to issue this order," she said. Environmental groups are now hoping the government is serious about enforcing the new protection for killer whales and will follow up with similar orders for other endangered species, Tessaro said. "What this means for the whales is that no longer is their survival and recovery going to be dependent on old laws like the Fisheries Act or unenforceable policies," she said. "Endangered species in Canada are endangered because their habitat is being degraded. Orders protecting their habitat are fundamental if we're going to ensure that these species survive and recover."

Luna star

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Faith - L57

Faith has been determined as missing by the Center for Whale Research. A recent CWR superpod encounter near Victoria revealed the 31 year old adult male missing and two new babies one in L and J pods each bringing the total for the population to 85 whales. This population is usually off Monteray Bay, CA, at this time of year. Faith is the last member of the L45 matriline. His mother L45 died in 1995 at the age of 57 years old. Faith was her only surviving offspring, his sibling L36 was born two years earlier but died later that same year in 1975. Faith's uncle died, at the age of 19, the same year L57 was born in 1977. The average life span for male resident killer whales is 29 years of age, but they can live longer. Ruffles is the oldest living male southern resident at 58 years of age.

Faith / L57
Faith on the left (Haro Striat superpod,12:09 August 27, 2006)
Faith - L57
Faith (L&J pods at San Juan Island, 12:35 June 23,2006)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Ocean Noise 2008 Science

Behavioral impacts clearly replaced strandings and deaths as the key issue for marine mammals encountering human noise. Several studies released during 2008 all suggest that whales of many species may stop or reduce their feeding when moderate to loud human sounds enter their habitat, and this particular impact is likely to become a central focus of future research and regulatory consideration.

The legal tussles over mid-frequency and low-frequency active sonars continued, and the Supreme Court decision does not put an end to the controversy. The Navy crossed an important threshold, completing full Environmental Impact Statements for their sonar training procedures for the first time; the lack of sufficient NEPA analysis was the root of most of the legal challenges. The plans they are putting forward to govern sonar training off most of the US coastline continue to rely on safety measures that Federal Courts have found wanting, though it appears that challenges to their proposals are more likely to focus on avoiding biologically important areas than increasing the safety zones that are designed to avoid injury. All parties seem to be accepting that gross injury is rare to the point of being difficult to use as a lever to shift the balance of interests with the Navy’s national security imperative, but NGOs, many field researchers, and agency staff are all looking more closely at the behavioral impacts that take place at much longer ranges (up to several or even tens of kilometers). The next round of Navy sonar conflicts will center on how willing the Navy is to consider these subtler impacts, and whether NMFS or the courts will impose broader territorial restrictions on sonar training to protect areas where whales may be more susceptible to repeated disruption by sonar transmissions.

Shipping noise is moving very quickly to the forefront of international concerns about rising ocean noise. This year the US, with strong German support, initiated a two-year process at the International Maritime Organization to come up with ship quieting recommendations. Also, the unusual sensitivity of harbor porpoises to boat noise has become clearer.


Acoustic Ecology Institute