RANDALL GARRISON: Resident whales under threat

Reducing human-caused noise on the water critical to marine mammals' future

On Oct. 24, I tabled motion M-460 in the House of Commons calling on the government to implement an action plan to protect the remaining 81 southern resident killer whales.

These orcas have been listed as endangered under Species At Risk Act since 2003, yet no action has been taken by the federal government.

The southern resident killer whales are not only sentinels for the health of our ecosystem, but also a key part of our local economy and an iconic species for Vancouver Islanders.

Whale watching expeditions, museum exhibits, books and whale souvenirs are all central to tourism on Vancouver Island.

I want both our economy and the orcas to continue to prosper, rather than ending up with only memories of the times when these majestic creatures graced our planet and our lives.

This motion calls for action in four key areas.

It calls for continuing federal support for research and monitoring programs for killer whales.

In particular this action plan would restore federal capacity to monitor pollution in the Pacific Ocean, a capacity lost in the last round of cuts in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. It would also restore funding necessary to put whale monitoring boats back on the water.

Second, this plan calls for implementing measures to decrease human generated noise and other disturbances.

Noise pollution interferes with communication between whales  and with prey location.

As noise pollution may be the most serious threat to the future of killer whales, this action plan calls for reducing engine noise to safe levels for vessels travelling through critical orca habitat and reductions in overall marine traffic.

It also calls for marine clean-up programs to end the harm to whales from marine debris, such as ghost fishing gear, Styrofoam and plastic.

Third, this plan calls for programs to decrease chemical pollution in the Salish Sea.

As a species at the top of the food chain, southern resident killer whales have become increasingly affected by toxins through the process of bioaccumulation.

These toxins cause cancer and affect longevity and fertility in whales, but of course these toxins also have similar impacts on our children and families since we eat the same fish and swim in the same ocean.

There are safe alternatives to almost all the toxins that are ending up in our local waters. We can start by switching to biodegradable cleaning products, minimizing the use of personal care products, properly disposing of unused pharmaceuticals and refraining from the use of cosmetic pesticides.

Fourth, this plan calls for measures to increase and enhance Chinook stocks as this fish is the principle, and some scientists say near exclusive, food source for southern resident killer whales.

Restoring historic chinook runs will not only provide critical food for these orcas, but also provide us with an enhanced supply of local food and a boost to sport fishing.

The action plan in motion M-460 is ready to go now.

For more information on how you can help visit my website at randallgarrison.ndp.ca where you can download a poster with simple actions you can take.

Time is running out to save the southern resident killer whales.

Randall Garrison (NDP) is the MP for Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca.

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