Feds announce 2022 measures to protect endangered orcas

The orca mother that sparked international headlines by carrying her dead calf for 17 days in waters off the Pacific Northwest coast in 2018 has given birth again. The Centre for Whale Research says a new calf was spotted on Saturday with a pod of endangered southern resident killer whales and the mother has been identified as J35, or Tahlequah, shown in a handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO/Katie Jones, Center for Whale Research MANDATORY CREDIT

For the fourth year in a row, Transport Canada has announced measures to protect southern resident killer whales in British Columbia.

Announced Friday, they include additional closures of commercial and recreational salmon fisheries, "seasonal slowdown areas," and limits on whale watching tours.

"These actions will help protect the whales’ access to salmon and minimize disturbance in key foraging areas," says a statement from the federal agency.

"Fishers are also asked to voluntarily stop fishing (do not haul gear) within 1,000 metres of killer whales as a best practice to reduce competition for their food and disturbance in their presence."

The department says two new slowdown areas co-developed with Pacheedaht First Nation will take effect on June 1 and last until the end of November, restricting vessels to a maximum speed of 10 knots in an area near the western entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

For the third consecutive year, it says vessels must stay at least 400 metres away from all killer whales in southern B.C. waters between Campbell River and Ucluelet, a measure that's in effect year-round until at least next May.

Transport Canada says a renewed agreement with local whale watching and ecotourism industry partners means they may not offer or promote tours that are focused on the endangered orcas.

Reducing pollution and underwater noise are also parts of the strategy.

"Southern resident killer whales have called the Pacific coast home for thousands of years, and we want to see their population grow, flourish, and return to their former abundance," said Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Joyce Murray, in a statement.

"Our government has been taking significant actions to protect these majestic creatures and we will enhance our protection measures to help limit the impacts of human activity in their habitats."

In 2021, according to Transport Canada, there were 155 "enforcement actions" taken and $51,500 worth of fines issued for violations of these measures.

"Mariner educational campaigns that were held during the boating season positively impacted compliance with the measures, and these efforts will be increased this year," the statement continues.

The whales were officially listed as endangered in Canada in 2003. The primary threat to their population is the scarcity of chinook salmon. Underwater noise and contaminated water are the other two key factors.

As of March 2021, the federal government said there were 73 remaining.

With files from The Canadian Press