Orcas of the Salish Sea on track to extinction | WWF-Canada

Orcas of the Salish Sea on track to extinction

Posted on 14 February 2017   |  
A Southern Resident Killer Whale
© Natalie Bowes / WWF-Canada
VANCOUVER, Feb. 14, 2017 —  As Minister for Fisheries and Oceans Dominic LeBlanc makes announcements on Canada’s West Coast this week, and with World Whale Day approaching (February 18), WWF-Canada calls upon the federal government to release its recovery plan for the Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKWs). The action plan for their recovery under the Species At Risk Act (SARA) is long overdue, and unless strong protection measures are quickly implemented, it is unlikely this group will survive in the long-term. Also known as the orcas of the Salish Sea, seven have died since January 2016, bringing the population down to 78.

David Miller, WWF-Canada president and CEO, said: 
“Southern Resident Killer Whales, along with the Northern Resident population, have been without a recovery plan for the 16 years since they were first found to be endangered. With seven deaths in a single year, these orcas are at a crossroads: Will measures be put in place to meaningfully reduce the threats they face, or will we let this iconic group of orcas disappear from our oceans forever?”

Threats to Southern Resident Killer Whales
  • Food scarcity. The whales rely almost completely on Chinook salmon, which is in decline.
  • Underwater noise, mostly from shipping. Acoustic disturbances mean orcas find it harder to communicate, forage for food and navigate. 
  • Industrial development in the orca’s critical habitat.
  • Contaminants from watershed pollution, which accumulates in orcas and can damage their health. 
Status of Southern Resident Killer Whales
  • These whales have been declared endangered in both Canada and the United States, as their critical habitat straddles the border. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) designated Southern Residents to be endangered in 2001. 
  • Fifteen years later, in the summer of 2016, the federal government released a proposed plan for their recovery. Although the consultation period ended in mid-August, the final recovery plan has not yet been released.
  • Because of its small population size and the species’ low reproductive rate, even under the most favourable conditions, recovery will take more than 25 years for this population to recover, scientists warn.

The recent deaths
  • The seven deaths in the past year  –  an unusually high number – include five adults and two infants
  • One of the orcas was “Granny,” thought to be 105 years old, and known to researchers as the leader of the family group they call J-pod.
  • A healthy adult male orca in his prime, called J34, is believed to have been killed by a ship strike in December. 
  • Two infant orcas, one a few days old and the other just under one year, died of unknown causes.

About World Wildlife Fund Canada
WWF-Canada creates solutions to the environmental challenges that matter most for Canadians. We work in places that are unique and ecologically important, so that nature, wildlife and people thrive together. Because we are all wildlife. For more information, visit wwf.ca.

For further information
Catharine Tunnacliffe, communications specialist
ctunnacliffe@wwfcanada.org, +1 647-268-9686
A Southern Resident Killer Whale
© Natalie Bowes / WWF-Canada Enlarge

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