Frustrations mount over dwindling B.C. orca population at DFO symposium
Department of Fisheries and Oceans to spend $7.2 million to monitor noise; environmentalists want more action
Environmentalists invited to Vancouver's orca symposium left frustrated after hearing few solutions from the federal government to restore B.C.'s dwindling killer whale population.
Six orcas along the B.C. South Coast have died over the last two years, reducing the total population to 77. Last month, a young killer whale was spotted malnourished along the south coast. Researchers believe it has also died.
"We haven't heard anything from the government yet about what they're going to do this week, next month, in the next six months, to protect the orcas — and that's what we're waiting to hear," said Christianne Wilhelmson executive director of the Georgia Strait Alliance.
More than 200 stakeholders were in attendance at the event, which runs until Thursday.
Wilhelmson says immediate measures discussed by experts in attendance included closing chinook salmon fisheries, and reducing tanker traffic along the Salish Sea.
DFO invests $7.2 million
Officials from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans have yet to commit to either policy, however, the federal government has reaffirmed its promise to monitor waters along the South Coast.
On Wednesday, the DFO announced $7.2 million in funding for hydrophones and oceanographic radars to monitor noise pollution in key habitats along the B.C. coast. The money will go to the University of Victoria's Ocean Networks Canada.
"We're making investments in science, so that we can make better decision making when it comes to actual objectives that we're trying to meet like protecting the southern resident killer whales," said Terry Beach, parliamentary secretary for the DFO.
"We're actually putting more science in the water over the last number of years than we have in the last decade."
Beach says the DFO hopes researchers in attendance of the symposium will present actionable plans that could be taken back to Ottawa.
Wilhelmson says the research commitments from the DFO are welcomed, but that industry and the federal government need to take concrete steps to begin to help orcas now.
"The reality is there aren't enough fish in the sea for the orcas, and we continue to fish the chinook — so that only makes things worse for them," she said.
"We don't know what the long term impacts of a [chinook fishery] closure will be, but we'll never know to what extent it will benefit the species unless we do it."
"We all have to be courageous if we say we really value the species."