The Next Extinction Quiz: Southern Resident Killer Whales

Scientists predict the next species to go extinct on Earth will be Southern Resident Killer Whales. There are 3 pods left of this unique species of whales. They live in the Salish Sea in the Pacific Ocean off the coasts of British Columbia, Canada and Washington State, USA. Species extinction is a global issue that requires environmental assessments of underwater marine environments.

People around the world are standing up to protect species and habitats for future generations by fighting harmful and unsustainable human activities. Will people fight to prevent adding noise pollution to the Salish Sea? Will humans prevent the next extinction: Southern Resident Killer Whales?

The biggest current threat is from Canadian federal government approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. The pipeline will carry oilsands diluted bitumen from the province of Alberta to the British Columbia coast where the Deltaport 2 oil shipping port will be constructed and operated on a new artificial island at the Roberts Bank Terminal in the Salish Sea. The diluted bitumen will be sold and shipped offshore to other countries for refining into synthetic crude oil.

Location of Roberts Bank Terminal in Salish Sea: Superport with Westshore coal and Deltaport 1 shipping terminals

Scientists report development of the site and increased shipping in the Fraser River estuary and Salish Sea will destroy internationally significant wildlife ecosystems including home to millions of Fraser River migrating Chinook salmon, migrating birds of the Pacific Flyway, and marine habitat for the 73 Southern Resident Killer Whales left.

International borders don’t matter when it comes to protecting the environment…This is not a First Nation problem, this isn’t an environmental person’s problem — this is everybody’s problem.”

Rueben George, manager of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation’s Sacred Trust.

At their website, it states that Raincoast Conservation Foundation scientists have been working with an international team of scientists, as well as experts at the David Suzuki Foundation, Georgia Strait Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council and WWF Canada to identify the best options for recovery using the best available science and a precautionary approach. Southern Residents killer whales are slowly going extinct under status quo conditions. To recover they require measures that reduce noise, disturbance, and pollution. Immediate measures that can support recovery in 2019 include reducing physical and acoustic disturbance from international shipping traffic.

Southern Resident Killer Whale pod near Roberts Bank Deltaport Terminal

Southern Resident Killer Whale Extinction Prevention

We have reached an environmental tipping point that requires a counteractive social tipping point…Today, it would seem that the key to survival is to stop causing the change.”

Vanessa Clarke, A Climate of Change, Trek (Spring 2019, p. 2)

There are many different options available to protect Southern Resident Killer Whales and their habitat. But only if there is a will to stop causing the change. Usually multiple actions combined as short, medium, and long term noise mitigation plans have the best results. I’m not an expert on noise control, and this is a very complex situation with international consequences. Please comment if you have additional polite science-based suggestions to add to my table.

Scientist Salish Sea RecommendationsPossible Noise Control Options
No new noise Prohibit Deltaport 2 shipping/oil port expansion in Salish Sea.

Build diluted bitumen refinery in Canada, e.g. Alberta, for sale and delivery through pipeline infrastructure to North American markets. Pipeline leaks or spills would have serious environmental impact.
Lower noise Distance and noise emission restrictions on whale watching tourism boats in Salish Sea.

Commercial shipping vessel mandatory go-slow restrictions.

Commercial shipping vessel noise emission standards for Salish Sea port entry.
Prevent noise Higher port fees for noisy commercial shipping vessels.

B.C. Ferries, operating in coastal waters, has noise control action plan including maintaining existing vessels to minimize engine noise, retrofitting existing vessels to make them quieter, and purchasing quieter vessels in future.

Declare Salish Sea a Marine Conservation Area with long term goal to reduce noise to natural ambient sound levels underwater.

Boat and vessel (small craft, fishing, shipping) manufacturing noise emission standards.

A Canadian company has made its first sale and shipment of diluted bitumen via rail from Alberta to the Port of Prince Rupert in British Columbia. This avoids adding oil tanker shipping to the Salish Sea. But a marine spill could be catastrophic environmentally. Despite oil industry claims, diluted bitumen does not float. Spills leave submerged oil and contaminated sediment. A 2010 spill in the USA from a 6 foot pipeline rupture into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River “required years and more than a billion dollars to clean up and highlighted the hazard of pumping heavy tar sands oil through pipelines”.

In the case of Southern Resident Killer Whale species extinction, society needs to look at whether economic and industrial interests should take precedence over protecting species who can’t protect themselves from human-caused habitat pollution. Noise mitigation and prevention is possible if society wants to save Southern Resident Killer Whales for future generations.

In an article on the damage caused by humanity’s growing acoustic footprint on ocean life, Jones (2019) states, “Last November, the United Nations agreed on resolutions to conserve ocean health that noted an “urgent need” for research and cooperation to address the effects of anthropogenic underwater noise. The European Union has adopted legislation to achieve healthy marine systems by 2020, including a provision to ensure that underwater noise does not “adversely affect” marine life.”

Will Canada’s federal government decide to fully protect healthy marine ecosystems for Southern Resident Killer Whales? If you see decisions related to Southern Resident Killer Whales, check the Salish Sea map. There are already some designated protected areas, but no way to force whales to stay inside them. Voluntary vessel ‘go slow’ recommendations start North of Vancouver Island-outside the Southern Resident Killer Whale’s prime inshore feeding area in the Salish Sea. Some government actions aren’t as helpful as they might seem.

January 2019 Population = 76 Whales

August 2019 Population = 73 Whales

Skoter is one of 3 more whales dead as of August 2019. Image by cbc.ca.

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg is heading to Alberta soon. She has said she would hate leaders who allowed continued climate change and environmental damage. I hope she raises awareness about the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and how related Deltaport 2 oil tanker port construction and operation in the Salish Sea would doom Southern Resident Killer Whales to be the next species extinction on Earth.

On May 3, 2019, I wrote Canadian federal government authorities to voice my concerns as a Canadian and a British Columbian. I’ve grown up seeing Southern Resident Killer Whales first hand while out and about on coastal waters. I’ve had the unforgettable experience of seeing the superpod of J, K, and L pods together at sea. I’m heartbroken at the thought of losing this species forever. The Honourable Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change replied that I should rest assured, she would read my letter. I never received any reply from the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, or the Honourable Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport.

It is not too late. Visit Raincoast Conservation Foundation website for more information on the issues and contact details to write Canadian federal authorities about taking action to prevent the next extinction: Southern Resident Killer Whales.
https://www.raincoast.org/action

© 2019 Jan L. Mayes

Jan L. Mayes

MSc, Aud(C), RAud

Author, audiologist, educator, quiet activist, playing with words.

Sources

Orca Network (2019, August 7). Southern Resident Orca Community Demographics, composition of pods, births and deaths since 1998. Retrieved from http://www.orcanetwork.org/Main/index.php?categories_file=Births%20and%20Deaths

Raincoast Live Stream: The future of killer whale recovery (2019, April 18). Raincoast Conservation Foundation. Transcript by attendee Jan L. Mayes.

New federal recovery measures for killer whales (2019, May 15). Retrieved from https://www.wildernesscommittee.org/news/new-federal-recovery-measures-killer-whales

Jones, N. (2019, April 10). Ocean uproar: saving marine life from a barrage of noise. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01098-6#ref-CR8

EPA (2017, July). Southern Resident Killer Whales. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/salish-sea/southern-resident-killer-whales

Tankers and Spills. Georgia Straight Alliance. Retrieved from https://georgiastrait.org/work/tankers-and-spills/

Georgia Straight Alliance. Orcas are drowning in noise. Retrieved from https://georgiastrait.org/work/species-at-risk/orca-protection/southern-resident-orcas/killer-whales-are-drowning-in-noise/

Bain, D.E., Smith, J.C., Williams, R. & Lusseau, D. (2006, March 4). Effects of vessels on Southern Resident Killer Whale behaviour. Retrieved from https://www.nwfsc.noaa.gov/research/divisions/cb/ecosystem/marinemammal/documents/bain_land_based.pdf

Little, S. (2019, May 31). ‘A huge relief’: calf born to critically endangered southern resident killer whale J pod. Global News. Retrieved from https://globalnews.ca/news/5340625/newborn-calf-j-pod/

Raincoast Conservation Foundation (2015). The Tourist dollar: What’s at stake. Salish Sea report. Retrieved from http://www.raincoast.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Chapter-4-SalishSea_DRAFT2-1124.pdf

CBC News (2019, August 6). 3 southern resident killer whales presumed dead after being missing over summer. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/three-southern-resident-killer-whales-presumed-dead-1.5238353

Center for Whale Research. Southern Resident Killer Whale Population as of July 1, 2019. Retrieved from https://www.whaleresearch.com/orca-population

The Canadian Press (2019, June 27). 5 things to know about the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. Global News. Retrieved from https://globalnews.ca/news/5399442/5-things-to-know-about-trans-mountain/

Science News (2019, March 13). Review of noise impacts on marine mammals yields new policy recommendations. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190313143307.htm

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Hennig, C. (2019, Jan 31). Indigenous nations on both sides of border unite to oppose expansion of Deltaport. CBC News. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/washington-lummi-nation-fight-delta-port-expansion-1.4999719

World Wildlife Fund. Southern resident killer whales. Retrieved from http://www.wwf.ca/conservation/oceans/killerwhales/

Gathright, J. (2018, August 12). After 17 days and 1,000 miles, a mother orca’s ‘tour of grief’ is over. NPR. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2018/08/12/638047095/after-17-days-and-1-000-miles-a-mother-orcas-tour-of-grief-is-over

Del Rosario, S. (2018, August 22). ‘Yeah, there were tears’: Crew that followed orca’s ‘tour of grief’ still reeling. Q13 Fox News. Retrieved from https://q13fox.com/2018/08/22/there-were-tears-crew-that-followed-orca-j35-tour-of-grief-still-reeling/

Brandon L. Southall, James J. Finneran, Colleen Reichmuth, Paul E. Nachtigall, Darlene R. Ketten, Ann E. Bowles, William T. Ellison, Douglas P. Nowacek, Peter L. Tyack. Marine Mammal Noise Exposure Criteria: Updated Scientific Recommendations for Residual Hearing Effects. Aquatic Mammals, 2019; 45 (2): 125 DOI: 10.1578/AM.45.2.2019.125

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