Spreading awareness on at-risk whales at Sidney event

Orcas at risk event will hear from knowledgeable speakers on the lives of
Southern Resident killer whales.

The population of Southern Resident killer whales is at risk.

Orcas at Risk, presented by Raincoast Conservation Foundation, is an event to spread the awareness on the risks posed to Southern Resident killer whales.

Raincoast, a scientific organization, has a couple of lawsuits against the federal government, which are still before the courts.

“It all comes back to the approval of the pipeline, but we’re working on it from a scientific point of view to prove that juvenile salmon can be affected by a spill, by increased noise, because there’s going to be 300 more some odd tankers every year if this whole thing ever goes through,” said Fred Gregory, special projects co-ordinator.

One of the lawsuits includes challenging the recommendation for approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline project by the National Energy Board. The other is challenging the cabinet’s approval of that project. Both are centred around the violations of the Species at Risk Act with regard to killer whales.

Gregory said the orcas are at risk now and are on the verge of collapse over time, but every little bit adds to the problems they have like pollution, too much noise, lack of food and the inability to communicate.

“The reason for having the event is to raise funds and bring awareness to the problem and I suppose drive people to our cause,” said Gregory.

Chris Genovali, executive director of Raincoast said there’s less than 80 whales right now, with the population being critically endangered.

“Just being able to sustain their population at this point when you get this few number of individuals in a population. Right now they are very vulnerable and subject to any kind of random event that could essentially extirpate them,” said Genovali.

He said anything could cause a tipping point at this stage, because their numbers are so low and the federal government has them listed under the Species at Risk Act.

“That’s one of the problems is that they have been listed for over a decade, and there’s been no substantive action taken by the federal government on the recovery plan and to mitigate all of these risks and these threats that they continue to face,” said Genovali.

And it’s not just the prospect of a spill, it’s the cumulative effect of all the noise that will be generated by ship traffic in the Salish Sea, which by their analysis, is enough to drive them to extinction.

“The good news is that if we can reverse some of these things. If we can create a net reduction in noise in the Salish Sea, if we can increase Chinook abundance, our model shows that their population can trend upwards, that they could start to grow the population,” he said.

The event takes place April 18 at the Mary Winspear Centre. There will be a bar and displays at 6 p.m. with speakers beginning their presentations at 7 p.m. The keynote speaker is Saanich-Gulf Islands MP Elizabeth May, with Chris Darimont, raincoast science director and Misty MacDuffee, raincoast biologist.

Their will also be a musical presentation by local group Reverie and a fundraiser raffle for an art piece titled The Getaway by artist, Mark Hobson.

Tickets are $20 and can be purchased through the Mary Winspear Centre by calling 250-656-0275.

For more information visit raincoast.org.

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