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

Uncertainty continues to surround completion date of upgrades to Sidney’s Reay Creek area

A spokesperson for federal government could not offer a new completion date

Oak Bay police seek suspect who broke into liquor store on Cadboro Bay Road

The incident happened at 2:50 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 17

MISSING: VicPD seeks 33-year-old man last heard from in August

Scott Grier could have been travelling in Alberta, police say

March to protect old growth, stop industrial logging coming to B.C. Legislature

Organizers say they want to give frontline communities a bigger say in nearby logging

Record-breaking 165 new COVID-19 cases diagnosed in B.C. in 24-hour period

Fifty-seven people are in hospital battling the novel coronavirus

B.C. releases details of $1.5B economic recovery plan, $660M in business tax incentives

Economic plan includes support for employers, as well as training for workers

‘Not criminally responsible’ hearing slated for man convicted of Abbotsford school stabbing

Gabriel Klein was found guilty in March of killing Letisha Reimer, 13, in 2016

Vancouver’s shuttered aquarium searching for financial solution amid pandemic

The aquarium needs about $1 million a month to cover its costs

B.C., Alberta sending nearly 300 fire personnel by Friday to help battle wildfires in Oregon

Some 230 firefighters, most from British Columbia but including a number from Alberta, will be deployed Friday

B.C. to begin publicly listing COVID-19 school exposure events

Move follows weeks of criticism from parents, the public

Most Read