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

Virtual public hearing set for developer with plans to subdivide Willow Street lot

People can submit comments in advance, or call to be added to a speakers list, ahead of June 3rd hearing

Cyclist in his 50s victim of fatal crash near Hope Thursday

Police have ruled out speed, impairment as factors after a tractor-trailer struck a man in his 50s

68-year-old solo hikes the HBC Heritage Trail

Allan Lynde decided on a 74-kilometre trek from Hope to Tulameen, 50 years after his last big hike

Hope’s fitness businesses prepare to get moving again, in a new COVID-19 reality

As order closing gym and indoor fitness facilities lifts, going to the gym will look differently

Council briefs: Back to the drawing board for Hope’s solid waste bylaw

Council talks 711 Water development, extended cafe patios, dealing with discarded needles

VIDEO: A Vancouver Island black bear takes weekend nap in eagle tree

Videos captured by Terry Eissfeldt shows the bear arriving Saturday night and sleeping in on Sunday

Two more COVID-19 cases reported by Langley long term care facility

One resident, one staffer have tested positive for the coronavirus

George Floyd asphyxiated by sustained pressure: family autopsy

Death sparked a wave of protests across the U.S. and abroad

Suspect sought in alleged assault, hate crime on Metro Vancouver bus: transit police

The woman then allegedly punched the teenager in the head multiple times

COVID-19: B.C. commercial landlords can’t evict if they decline rent assistance

Emergency order ‘incentive’ for federal program, Carole James says

Investigators probe death of CN employee at Surrey rail yard

Transportation Safety Board is investigating an ‘occurrence that took place during switching operations’

Abbotsford International Airshow opening 50-year-old time capsule

Bronze time capsule was put together to commemorate AIA as Canada’s National Airshow

Trans Mountain starts B.C. leg of pipeline twinning project

Mostly finished in Alberta, Burnaby terminal expanding

Most Read