Speed restrictions for boats are being brought in on the Atlantic coast following a spate of whale deaths on both East and West coasts.
The news was announced at the unveiling of the CCGS Sir John Franklin, a state-of-the-art research vessel at Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s (DFO) North Saanich base.
Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, confirmed there had been five North Atlantic right whale deaths over the last few weeks and measures are now being put in place to protect them.
“The North Atlantic right whale is an endangered species, in the same way the southern resident killer whale is important on the West Coast,” he said. “We take the significance of this issue very seriously, given that there are only about 410 of these animals in the world.”
Wilkinson said visual inspections of the dead mammals indicate death by boat strikes and the latest necropsy of the second dead whale seems to confirm these observations. Additionally, the whales were found in “unexpected” locations, perhaps where ships wouldn’t be expecting whale activity. Marc Garneau the Minister of Transport has implemented an immediate speed limit of 10 knots for boats 20m or greater, travelling in the western Gulf of St. Lawrence, in two designated shipping lanes north and south of Anticosti Island.
The minister said economic considerations were part of discussions but as three of the whale deaths have occurred in only the last few days, urgent action was required. He said the government’s previous restrictions on fishing gear had led to no whale deaths by entanglement in 2018 or 2019. He said this indicated the government’s response was working.
Back in the Pacific North West, there has also been a spike in whale deaths over the past few months with around 70 grey whales found dead in American and Canadian waters. Boat strikes are thought to possibly account for some of the deaths but the one consistency observed about the whales were many looked severely malnourished. Research is ongoing to see if there is a common denominator among the deaths and it remains to be seen if East coast style restrictions will be enforced in B.C. waters.