Regulations to protect killer whales working

Study finds U.S. regulations to protect killer whales near B.C. coast effective

American regulations that limit vessel noise and traffic around endangered killer whales off the West Coast are working, a new study says.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, said in its review of regulations adopted in 2011 that the changes are benefiting southern resident orcas without having negative effects on the local whale watching and tourism industries.

The southern residents that ply the waters off British Columbia and Washington state are listed as endangered species in the United States and a species at risk in Canada.

The last census in July showed there were just 77 whales in the three pods that make up the population known to use the Salish Sea that includes the straits of Georgia, Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound.

“There is great concern right now about this population. There has been a loss of too many whales in the last six months to a year,” Michael Milstein, a spokesman for NOAA, said in an interview.

The Center for Whale Research in Washington state said as of December this year there were 76 whales, down from 83 in 2016.

Regulatory changes implemented by the American government prevent vessels from going within 200 yards, or 182 metres, from the whales.

Vessels aren’t allowed to go in the path of the whales or try to intercept them.

“We know from the science that when boats are in close proximity to the whales, they don’t forage as much and possibly don’t forage as effectively, both because they’re disturbed by the presence of the vessels and possibly by the sound of the engines,” Milstein said.

The study compared research and data on vessel compliance, biological impacts and other factors in the five years before and after the regulations were implemented.

It found the number of observed incidents of vessels interfering with whales dropped dramatically under the new regulations.

Milstein said the changes primarily applied to smaller tourism and recreation vessels, since major shipping lanes are at a distance from where the whales frequent.

Whale watching is a lucrative tourism industry in the waters off B.C. and Washington state. There were concerns the regulations would have a negative impact on the industry, but Milstein said the study found tourism tax revenues have increased significantly.

Milstein said the study found that while most commercial vessels are following the new rules, recreational boaters tended to be in the dark about regulations, signalling a need for more public education.

Canada’s Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc said last fall that similar regulations will be in place before the spring to ensure vessels stay at least 200 metres away from southern resident killer whales in Canadian waters. The minister also asked whale-watching operators to voluntarily comply with the regulations in advance of their implementation.

No one from the Fisheries or Transport departments was made available for an interview.

Milstein said experts are “very pleased” Canada is moving to streamline regulations, which will help prevent confusion for boaters crossing the border.

But it’s not only recreational vessel traffic having a negative impact on the species.

Milstein said there are indications noise from larger cargo ships is affecting the southern residents but no regulations have been enacted to address the issue.

The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority launched a noise reduction trial earlier this year by asking vessels to slow down in the Haro Strait, the body of water between southern Vancouver Island and San Juan Island.

Preliminary results of the study found that slowing speeds did reduce noise, but also caused vessels to remain in an area for a longer period of time. Final results of the study are expected early this year.

Linda Givetash, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

UPDATE: Rockslide keeps Coquihalla northbound lane closed

Highway 5 is closed in one direction.

UPDATE: Wind warning ends for Metro Vancouver after thousands lose power

More than 34,000 BC Hydro customers in the dark on Sunday morning in the Lower Mainland and Sunshine Coast

WIND WARNING: Metro Vancouver expecting 100 km/h gusts Saturday night

Environment Canada issues warns of possibly dangerous conditions

Fire crews battling Laidlaw house fire

Neighbours say the family are safe, still unconfirmed by fire department

Gear swap in Langley helps make ball hockey more accessible for kids

A new initiative allows parents to empty garages of unused equipment and get new kids in the sport.

REPLAY: B.C. this week in video

In case you missed it, here’s a look at replay-worthy highlights from across the province this week

$130K could get you on a dive to the Titanic

Hot summer ticket: $130K could get you on a dive to the Titanic off Newfoundland

UK’s Princess Eugenie, daughter of Prince Andrew, engaged

Princess Eugenie, the daughter of Prince Andrew and his ex-wife Sarah Ferguson, will marry Jack Brooksbank in Autumn 2018

German nurse charged with 97 more murders

Niels Hoegel, serving a life sentence for two murders, has been indicted in nearly 100 more killings.

Two men guilty in murders of Alberta family could face 75 years

The pair were found guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of Klaus’s parents and sister in a rural home near Castor, Alberta

With Senate talks falling short, U.S. shutdown enters workweek

President Donald Trump accused Democrats of prioritizing services and security for noncitizens over U.S. citizens

Toronto mayor wants city to co-host 2026 FIFA World Cup

The mayor of Canada’s most populous city says he wants Toronto to be among the North American cities to co-host the 2026 FIFA World Cup

With a lighter touch, SAG Awards follows a familiar script

Morgan Freeman accepts the Life Achievement Award at the 24th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday

S. Koreans burn Kim’s photo as N. Korean band leader passes

South Korean activists burned a large photo of Kim Jong Un as an extremely popular girl band passed them

Most Read