File photo: (Katy Foster/NOAA)

File photo: (Katy Foster/NOAA)

Habitat protection widened for endangered killer whales off Vancouver Island

The government is increasing the amount of protected habitat from about 6,400 square kilometres to roughly 10,700 square kilometres.

Two new areas off Vancouver Island have been designated by the federal government as protected for critical habitat for resident killer whales.

Fisheries and Oceans Minister Jonathan Wilkinson says the decision means key foraging locations for the endangered whales are protected from destruction.

The government is increasing the amount of protected habitat from about 6,400 square kilometres to roughly 10,700 square kilometres.

The new protected area is intended to help recovery efforts for northern and southern resident killer whales, and covers an area off southwestern Vancouver Island.

The number of southern resident killer whales is down to 74 as the orcas face several threats, including a lack of prey, particularly chinook salmon, noise and physical strikes from ships, and contaminants in the water.

The state of Washington recently announced US$1.1 billion in spending and a partial whale-watching ban in an attempt to help the population’s recovery.

The money would go toward protecting and restoring habitat for salmon, boosting production from salmon hatcheries, storm-water cleanup and quieting vessel traffic.

Read more: Aerial photos reveal good and bad news about B.C.’s endangered killer whales

Read more: Conservation groups sue Ottawa to protect endangered killer whales

In Canada, the government says the announcement on Wednesday is in addition to $167 million in spending announced this year to help the whales.

Measures it has introduced include requiring vessels to slow down, tougher regulatory controls on contaminants and spending aimed at protecting and boosting the stock of chinook. Whale-watching vessels and other boats have also been ordered to stay 200 metres away from the animals.

“We know that Canadians care deeply about these whales,” Wilkinson said in a statement. “These new critical habitat areas will ensure that the ocean space that the whales frequent and forage for prey is protected for generations to come.”

The distinctive black-and-white orcas were listed as an endangered species in the U.S. and Canada well over a decade ago. Their numbers are now at the lowest levels in more than three decades.

One of the whales was seen this summer keeping the body of her dead calf afloat in waters off B.C. and Washington state for more than two weeks, triggering international media coverage of their plight.

The federal government’s approach to protecting whale habitat has not been without opposition as sport fishing, tourism and business leaders from across Vancouver Island warned earlier this month that jobs are at stake because fishing closures have been extended. Seventeen Chambers of Commerce on the Island have asked Fisheries and Oceans to consider the impact of its management measures on the economies of coastal communities.

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist, an independent pharmacy in Toronto, Monday, April 19, 2021. Younger Canadians in several provinces are now able to get the AstraZeneca vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
AstraZeneca vaccine appointments fill up fast on Vancouver Island

More pharmacies expected to be added as supply increases

More sleeping cabins for the homeless in the Cowichan Valley could soon be put in place if a $2.5-million grant application to the UBCM Strengthening Communities’ Services funding program is successful. (File photo)
Funding sought to expand homeless initiatives in Cowichan Valley

$2.5-million grant would see more sleeping cabins and outreach projects

The old Stanley Gordon school in Lake Cowichan. (Lexi Bainas/Gazette file)
Editorial: Old school properties represent potential for our areas

There are opportunities, often sitting right in the middle of our small communities.

Sweet gum trees like this one in City Square will be replaced over the next three years. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Duncan plans big tree replacement project for downtown

Sweet gums in City Square and along Station Street will go over the next three years

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

Nanaimo RCMP say a man was injured while pouring gunpowder on a backyard fire in Harewood on Wednesday, April 21. (File photo)
Nanaimo man hospitalized after pouring gunpowder onto backyard fire

RCMP, investigating explosion in Harewood, also came across an alcohol still on the property

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. sees 1,006 COVID-19 cases Thursday, ‘alarming’ 502 in hospital

Vaccine bookings for people aged 60 and older set to start

Shannon Zirnhelt, from left, her son Lockie, 3, Julia Zirnhelt, 13, and Ella Krus, 13, co-founders of Third Planet Crusade are featured in a music video set to air on Earth Day, April 22, 2021. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
VIDEO: B.C.-made music video launched in time for Earth Day 2021

Singer songwriter Shannon Zirnhelt worked with Third Planet Crusade on the project in the Cariboo

Ambulance crews have been busy with a record number of emergency overdose calls this Wednesday, April 21. (BC Emergency Health Services)
B.C. paramedics responded to a record 138 overdose calls in a single day

Wednesday’s calls included 48 in the Vancouver Coastal Health region and 51 in Fraser Health

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. COVID-19 hotspots targeted as AstraZeneca vaccine runs low

17,000 appointments booked the first day for people aged 40 and up

B.C. Ferries’ sixth Island-class vessel launches at Damen Shipyards Galati in Romania. The ship is the second of two that will service the Nanaimo-Gabriola Island route starting in 2022. (Photo submitted)
Second hybrid ferry for Nanaimo-Gabriola route launched overseas

Island-class vessel will enter service in 2022

Dresses hang outside Nelson city hall as part of the REDress Project by Métis artist Jaime Black. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
B.C. red dresses symbolizing missing, murdered Indigenous women vandalized a 2nd time

Nelson’s REDress Project was vandalized along with an outdoor installation on Vancouver Island

Most Read