How beluga whales, orca births are linked

December 31, 2018

Montreal diverted its sewage to the St. Lawrence River; shortly thereafter beluga whales started dying. The deaths were blamed on tanker traffic. No deaths were reported before or after restoration of the sewage treatment.

Victoria is just now in the process of building a Sewage Treatment Facility to serve only the Greater Victoria area, rather than pushing the stuff into the ocean. Until completed and in operation, the region will continue to discharge an average of 82 million litres a day into the ocean.

The orca pods in southern B.C. waters haven’t a surviving birth in five years.

Sewage does not only contain human waste it has in it everything dumped into our toilets. Medications and everything flushed out of bodies, chemicals, spoiled products thru our garburator’s. Making it a deadly source of contamination.

Most of Vancouver’s sewage goes to treatment plants. The older parts of the sewage and stormwater system use one pipe that carries both sewage and stormwater combined. Raw sewage frequently backs up into the stormwater system dumping 36 billion litres of untreated effluent from outfalls in Vancouver, Burnaby and New Westminster each year. Stormwater overloads the system and discharges from 42 combined underwater outfalls, so people never see the raw sewage that harms marine life all around the outfalls. The worst outfall empties into Burrard Inlet at the north end of Clark Drive. Huge volumes of raw sewage discharge regularly from this site. A large area of the ocean floor is smothered by human feces, and other excrement. The plume reaches New Brighton Park. Outfalls are at Brockton Point, Coal Harbour, English Bay, Kitsilano and five in False Creek. More than a dozen go directly into the Fraser River, where juvenile salmon spend months acclimatizing to saltwater environment.

Greater Vancouver Regional District has set a 50-year timeline for eliminating these raw sewage discharges. Fisheries and Oceans Canada considers them a violation of the Fisheries Act.

Source: Medicine Hat News

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B.C. whale-watching group uses surcharge to boost salmon, science for killer whales

December 3, 2018

A British Columbia whale-watching organization is boosting its passenger surcharge to increase spending on science programs and salmon-recovery projects for killer whale conservation.

VICTORIA — A B.C. whale-watching organization is boosting its passenger surcharge to increase spending on science programs and salmon-recovery projects for killer whale conservation.

Prince of Whales Whale Watching says the conservation fee charged to passengers will rise from $2 to $5 and will be aimed at supporting the endangered southern resident killer whale population.

The company says in a news release the added fee is expected to generate more than $1 million over the next five years with the money going toward orca-based science programs and chinook salmon recovery projects, the preferred food of the resident whales.

Alan McGillivray, owner of the whale-watching company, says the southern resident population is struggling and one of the big reasons is reduced availability of prey.

There are just 74 remaining members of the southern residents that are often found in the waters off B.C. and Washington state.

Source: The Province.com

Orca ‘apocalypse’: half of killer whales doomed to die from pollution

September 27, 2018

At least half of the world’s killer whale populations are doomed to extinction due to toxic and persistent pollution of the oceans, according to a major new study.

Although the poisonous chemicals, PCBs, have been banned for decades, they are still leaking into the seas. They become concentrated up the food chain; as a result, killer whales, the top predators, are the most contaminated animals on the planet. Worse, their fat-rich milk passes on very high doses to their newborn calves.

PCB concentrations found in killer whales can be 100 times safe levels and severely damage reproductive organs, cause cancer and damage the immune system. The new research analysed the prospects for killer whale populations over the next century and found those offshore from industrialised nations could vanish as soon as 30-50 years.

Among those most at risk are the UK’s last pod, where a recent death revealed one of the highest PCB levels ever recorded. Others off Gibraltar, Japan and Brazil and in the north-east Pacific are also in great danger. Killer whales are one of the most widespread mammals on earth but have already been lost in the North Sea, around Spain and many other places.

“It is like a killer whale apocalypse,” said Paul Jepson at the Zoological Society of London, part of the international research team behind the new study. “Even in a pristine condition they are very slow to reproduce.” Healthy killer whales take 20 years to reach peak sexual maturity and 18 months to gestate a calf.

PCBs were used around the world since the 1930s in electrical components, plastics and paints but their toxicity has been known for 50 years. They were banned by nations in the 1970s and 1980s but 80% of the 1m tonnes produced have yet to be destroyed and are still leaking into the seas from landfills and other sources.

The international Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants came into force in 2004 to tackle the issue, but Jepson said the clean-up is way behind schedule. “I think the Stockholm Convention is failing,” he said. “The only area where I am optimistic is the US. They alone produced 50% of all PCBs, but they have been getting PCB levels down consistently for decades. All we have done in Europe is ban them and then hope they go away.”

The researchers said PCBs are just one pollutant found in killer whales, with “a long list of additional known and as yet unmeasured contaminants present”. Further problems for killer whales include the loss of key prey species such as tuna and sharks to overfishing and also growing underwater noise pollution.

The new research, published in the journal Science, examined PCB contamination in 351 killer whales, the largest analysis yet. The scientists then took existing data on how PCBs affect calf survival and immune systems in whales and used this to model how populations will fare in the future. “Populations of Japan, Brazil, Northeast Pacific, Strait of Gibraltar, and the United Kingdom are all tending toward complete collapse,” they concluded.

Lucy Babey, deputy director at conservation group Orca, said: “Our abysmal failures to control chemical pollution ending up in our oceans has caused a killer whale catastrophe on an epic scale. It is essential that requirements to dispose safely of PCBs under the Stockholm Convention are made legally binding at the next meeting in May 2019 to help stop this scandal.” Scientists have previously found “extraordinary” levels of toxic pollution even in the 10km-deep Mariana trench in the Pacific Ocean.

“This new study is a global red alert on the state of our oceans,” said Jennifer Lonsdale, chair of the Wildlife and Countryside Link’s whales group. “If the UK government wants its [proposed] Environment Act to be world-leading, it must set ambitious targets on PCB disposal and protect against further chemical pollution of our waters.”

The research shows that killer whale populations in the high north, off Norway, Iceland, Canada and the Faroes, are far less contaminated due to their distance from major PCB sources. ”The only thing that gives me hope about killer whales in the longer term is, yes, we are going to lose populations all over the industrialised areas, but there are populations that are doing reasonably well in the Arctic,” said Jepson.

If a global clean-up, which would take decades, can be achieved, these populations could eventually repopulate empty regions, he said, noting that killer whales are very intelligent, have strong family bonds and hunt in packs. “It is an incredibly adaptive species – they have been able to [live] from the Arctic to the Antarctic and everywhere in between.”

He praised the billion-dollar “superfund” clean-ups in the US, such as in the Hudson River and Puget Sound, where the polluter has paid most of the costs: “The US is going way beyond the Stockholm Convention because they know how toxic PCBs are.”

Source: The Guardian.com

As southern resident killer whales dwindle, more food options mean northern population is thriving

September 20, 2018

As concern grows over the decline of the southern resident killer whale population following the presumed death of the young female J50, the story off B.C.’s north and central coast is much different. 

The most recent count of the northern resident group of orcas reported 309 whales, more than four times the number of southern residents.

“The northern killer whale population is doing much better… [and] doesn’t seem to be going through the same slow decline,” said Lance Barrett-Lenard, head of the cetacean research program at the Vancouver Aquarium.

Both populations feed on chinook salmon as their primary prey but Barrett-Lenard said the northern whales have less competition and more options to choose from, with fish returning to the Skeena River, Nass River and Owikeno Lake.

More options for food

“If one system is bad… our northern residents have the opportunity to shift their focus to fish returning to another system,” Barrett-Lenard told Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk.

“In the case of the southern residents, however, that population is really dependent on chinook bound for the Fraser River and to some extent the Columbia [River] … When those systems are down it doesn’t have anywhere to go.”

He said with stocks of chinook declining across the province, northern residents could very well face the same fate. He noted their population growth has begun to taper off after keeping a steady rate for the past 30 years.

Another possibility his colleagues have considered is that the northern whales might take over the southern residents’ territory if the latter were to die out.

Maintaining marine diversity

Barrett-Lenard said the disappearance of the southern residents would be a huge loss of cultural significance for the province.

“As people, we value diversity. We value the diversity of Indigenous groups, we have words like cultural genocide, we’re very concerned if a language is lost. In the same way I think we recognize that these killer whale populations are ancient, unique, distinct cultures,” he said.

“If one of them goes, it will eventually be replaced in space by another one — but once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. We as humans have made this value judgment that we don’t want that to happen.”

To protect and sustain the northern resident killer whales, Barrett-Lenard said people must me mindful of the factors that have caused the decline of their primary food source.

“Certainly, climate change is important; preserving those estuarine​ and river spawning habitats is incredibly important; and keeping our own monitoring and management of our fisheries is important,” he said.

Source: cbc.ca

Canadian court sides with orca protection and Indigenous sovereignty; major setback for Trans Canada pipeline

August 30, 2018

Today, August 30, 2018 Greenpeace USA responded to a Canadian court’s ruling that the Canadian government did not properly assess the impact that the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project could have on the survival of the endangered Southern Resident Orca, including the threat posed by a seven-fold increase in oil tanker ship traffic through the orcas’ habitat. The court also ruled that Indigenous people in British Columbia were not properly consulted before the project was approved by Canada’s government. The decisions represent a major setback for the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline and its prospects of being completed.

In response, Greenpeace USA Tar Sands Campaigner Rachel Rye Butler said:

“Today’s decision is a major win for Indigenous Nations and for the environment. It has long been obvious that the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project violates Indigenous sovereignty and would cause irreparable harm to our environment and the health of people; while threatening the extinction of the Southern Resident orca. It’s time to pull the plug on this project once and for all.

“Today’s ruling gives Canada a chance to walk away from this disastrous and costly project and we encourage Prime Minister Trudeau to do so. The Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project is once again facing delay and uncertainty, making it all the more perplexing why the Canadian government would continue to push forward a pipeline that does not have consent from the Indigenous Nations whose land it crosses, and that threatens the climate and coastal economies.

“It’s not surprising that 99 percent of Kinder Morgan Canada’s shareholders voted today to officially sell the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project to the Canadian government. In what can only be viewed as a bailout to the company, the Canadian government bought the project from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion earlier this year as the company was looking to unload the beleaguered pipeline.

“Today’s decision is a testament to the power of people and the strength of the Indigenous-led movement against the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project. People will continue to resist until this toxic pipeline is cancelled for good.”

Greenpeace USA recently released a report documenting the threat that the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project poses to local communities along the Pacific Coast, including the potential extinction of the Southern Resident orca. That is why the organization has called for Washington Governor Jay Inslee and his Orca Task Force to take bold action on the scale of implementing an emergency moratorium on all new fossil fuel tanker traffic through the orcas’ habitat until the Southern Resident population is stabilized.

Earlier this year, energy company Kinder Morgan decided to abandon the Trans Mountain pipeline and are planning to sell it to the Canadian government after it faced, among other obstacles, an overwhelming wave of protests and negative press across Canada and in the Pacific Northwest United States.

Source: San Juan Islander.com

Cowichan Bay whale watchers record ‘alarming’ navy sonar testing in Saanich Inlet

June 16, 2018

A group geared up Saturday afternoon to catch a glimpse of the Saanich Inlet’s marine life, but on a recent visit captains from Ocean Ecoventures Whale Watching heard something they weren’t expecting.

“They were doing not only just sonar testing but invasive sonar testing,” says head captain Gary Sutton.

He used an underwater microphone to record the high pitch sound, he says came from nearby the navy’s HMCS Calgary.

“We actually went closer to it [and] once I shut down [the vessel] you could actually hear it through the hull of this boat with no hydrophone and that was shocking to me,” adds Sutton.

He says what’s most alarming is this was happening not far from whales.

“We actually had killer whales that day 10 minutes away.”

It comes as the endangered population of southern resident orcas has been dropped to just 75 members. The Center for Whale Research has listed L92, a 23 year old male, as deceased.

Source: Check News.ca

Dead killer whale found off the North Coast of B.C.

June 6, 2018

Marine researchers performed a necropsy off Dundas Island to determine death of the young orca

On May 30, a young female killer whale washed up on the shore of Dundas Island.

Lara Sloan of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) said the initial necropsy revealed no obvious cause of death and no physical trauma. 

Dr. Steven Raverty, the marine mammal expert veterinarian pathologist for the province, performed the necropsy. He sent samples away for DNA analysis to determine whether the killer whale was a northern or southern resident. More testing for the young whale’s cause of death will be done with collected samples, and marine researchers hope to find results in the next few weeks.

Sloan said DFO normally gets two or three reports of dead killer whales found in the Pacific region each year.

Source: Maple Ridge News.com

Northern resident killer whale numbers reach record high

May 25, 2018

Population numbers have more than doubled since the 1970s

While the northern resident killer whales have yet to be seen in the Prince Rupert harbour this year, marine researchers have seen an increase in their numbers.

On May 11, the Pacific division of Fisheries and Oceans Canada tweeted the latest statistics for the pod populations.

“The 2017 Northern Resident #KillerWhale numbers are in – this population has grown to a maximum of 309 whales! This number includes 5 confirmed whale deaths and 10 calves born,” DFO’s tweet reads.

In the 1970s, when DFO launched its study of the northern resident killer whales, they totalled 120 whales.

“The numbers have more than doubled since the beginning of the study. They took a bit of a downturn in the late 1990s, during a time when chinook salmon were particularly scarce in some poor salmon years,” Lance Barrett-Lennard, the director of the marine mammal program at the Vancouver Aquarium, said.

“It’s kind of a success story, that particular population. We’re really happy to see that trend continuing.”

Killer whales usually give birth every five years, and a high infant mortality rate is a factor of low population numbers. Marine mammal researchers study the difference between annual births and deaths, and the three per cent birthrate in the 2017 study shows a healthy rate. The death rate was particularly low last year, which bodes well for the population of whales.

The latest statistics are the highest recorded number for the northern resident killer whales. Barrett-Lennard said researchers aren’t sure why the population has grown so much, but it looks as though the numbers are rebounding.

The most likely theory, said Barrett-Lennard, is the killer whales were killed by humans.

“People generally didn’t like killer whales through most of the 1900s until the last 25, 30 years. Fishermen really didn’t like them, they saw them as competitors for fish, they saw them to be dangerous,” he said. “It’s very easy to kill a killer whale with a rifle. If you had fishermen shooting at them, it wouldn’t take many deaths a year to really drive the population down.”

Since then, public opinion of the species has changed, and people from all over come to B.C.’s coasts to whale watch.

When the study of the northern resident killer whales began in the 70s, the most reliable place to spot a killer whale off the coast of B.C. was in the Johnstone Strait. Like the numbers of the pod, that too has changed.

“We live in fortunate times in a way, if we’re interested in animals like this and killer whales in particular because sightings have become much more common along the whole coast,” Barrett-Lennard said. “In particular, in Prince Rupert, we’ve had a fairly consistent — until this year — visitations of the northern resident pod right into the harbour. It impacts people in that direct way, they have a much better chance of seeing them now.”

oast,” Barrett-Lennard said. “In particular, in Prince Rupert, we’ve had a fairly consistent — until this year — visitations of the northern resident pod right into the harbour. It impacts people in that direct way, they have a much better chance of seeing them now.”

Source: The Northern View.com

An orca killed a baby killer whale in B.C. waters so he could mate with its mom, scientists believe

March 22, 2018

WARNING: Disturbing details.

Water sprays into the air after the orca mother of a newborn rams the male who killed her baby on Dec. 2, 2016.

An orca killed a baby killer whale in B.C. waters, in what is believed to be the first infanticide among the species, say the findings of a research paper published in Nature this week.

And it was all because the orca wanted to mate with its mother, scientists believe.

The encounter was spotted in the area of the Johnstone Strait north of Vancouver Island on Dec. 2, 2016.

It began at about 10 a.m., when orca sounds were heard at a hydrophone station near Robson Bight.

About an hour later, a research boat set out from Alert Bay and found northern resident, or Biggs killer whales travelling west in the western Johnstone Strait.

There were two groups of orcas.

One consisted of a mother and her adult son. They were following about 200 metres behind three members of a family of whales with whom they would soon find themselves in a bloody conflict.

One of the whales they were following had wounds from the teeth of another whale — some of which were bleeding.

Then, about a half-hour later, researchers spotted more whales belonging to the same family. There was a mother, her two daughters and a newborn baby.

The family of orcas came together close to Haddington Island, about a half-hour after that — but the pursuing mother and her son stayed about 200 meters behind them.

Several more minutes went by and “erratic movements and splashing suggestive of a predation event were observed,” according to the paper.

The male that earlier gave pursuit was moving away from the other orcas as they circled him.

The newborn baby was not surfacing next to its mother.

Researchers soon noticed the newborn’s body being dragged by the male pursuer, the baby’s carcass trailing beneath his jaw.

And now, the newborn’s mother looked to be after him.

She appeared to chase the male as his own mother tried to move between them, and together the whales sent off “intense vocal activity” that could be heard through the hull of the research boat.

The newborn’s mom rammed the male hard enough to “send blood and water into the air” and to make his blubber “shake like a bowl of Jello,” according to researchers.

The encounter calmed down at about 12:43 p.m., when the pursuing male and his mother moved away from the area, the latter dragging the newborn baby’s body by the tail.

She was later spotted holding the baby’s left pectoral flipper in her mouth.

The pair were spotted with the newborn’s body as late as 4 p.m., but the observation was called off due to the onset of nighttime at 4:15 p.m.

Researchers later determined that the pursuing male drowned the baby by gripping its tail with his teeth, and giving it no chance to surface for air due to his “consistent forward motion.”

They believe the attack happened due to “sexual selection,” a phenomenon in which a male commits an infanticide, not only to mate with the baby’s mother, but also to “remove the progeny of a competing male from the gene pool,” study co-author Jared Towers told Global News.

“I think this behaviour was motivated by a desire to breed,” he said.

Orcas tend to lactate for up to two years after they give birth — and they don’t ovulate while they’re lactating, he added.

“With knowing this female had just given birth, and knowing if that infant was killed, that ends lactation,” Towers said.

“Then she can become fertile again quite quickly. There’s an opportunity there for a breeding male to have his genes get passed along to the next generation.”

READ MORE: Killer whales hunting near Washington state put on amazing aerial show

The researchers also weren’t surprised to see the whale’s mother work together with her son to kill the newborn and assist her son in finding a mate.

“In sympatric populations, post-reproductive female killer whales increase the survival of adult sons by sharing ecological knowledge and prey with them,” the paper said.

Their working together was likely motivated by the potential to improve their “inclusive fitness” — that is, their genetic success thanks to cooperating.

“This benefits inclusive fitness of the female because a positive relationship exists between reproductive success and age in male killer whales,” the paper read.

Source: Global News.ca

Canada announces $12M for killer whale research

March 15, 2018

The Canadian government announced it’s putting $12 million towards protecting killer whales from vessel collisions on the ocean through a new Whale Detection Initiative.

The funds will be distributed over five years to develop and test technologies that will help detect whales in real time.

About $9.1 million will go towards developing and testing various acoustic and imaging devices, including underwater microphones.

Fisheries and Oceans Minister, Dominic LeBlanc, says the government will spend another $3.1 million on research projects focused on helping protect the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales located off the Southern West Coast of B.C.

Three researchers from the University of Victoria—Francis Juanes, Rosaline Canessa and Stan Dosso—were awarded $935,000 in federal funds to study the impact of underwater noise on the southern pod, as well as study their main food source, the chinook salmon.

“We’re thrilled by this opportunity to undertake important research into human impacts on the southern resident killer whales and their prey,” said Francis Juanes, UVic fisheries ecologist and lead investigator for the chinook salmon research.

“We anticipate contributing significantly to understanding the stressors affecting these magnificent marine mammals and, ultimately, to mitigation measures to help ensure their long-term survival and success.”

Coastal geographer, Rosaline Canessa, is leading the vessel disturbance study and marine acoustics specialist, Stan Dosso will head up the echolocation research.

There are about 76 Southern Resident Killer Whales left, causing them to be considered an endangered population under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.

The small population also has a low reproductive rate and incurs a variety of threats caused by human activity.

Several conservation groups , have been working to protect the species, calling for the public to sign petitions and have the government control vessel traffic, enforce Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and protect the ocean food chain.

The Government of Canada is working with Indigenous peoples, as well as local stakeholders and communities in six pilot sites to determine the key impacts of marine vessel activity on coastal environments.

The six sites include: Northern B.C.; Southern B.C.; St. Lawrence River, Quebec; Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick; South Coast, Newfoundland and Arctic, Nunavut.

The new initiative falls under the 2016 $1.5 billion Oceans Protection Plan, with the goal of ensuring whales are around for future generations.

The plan also aims to remove abandoned boats to reduce the risks of shipping on marine animals and the ocean.

Source: Kelownanow.com