File photo: (Katy Foster/NOAA)

Habitat protection widened for endangered killer whales off Vancouver Island

The government is increasing the amount of protected habitat from about 6,400 square kilometres to roughly 10,700 square kilometres.

Two new areas off Vancouver Island have been designated by the federal government as protected for critical habitat for resident killer whales.

Fisheries and Oceans Minister Jonathan Wilkinson says the decision means key foraging locations for the endangered whales are protected from destruction.

The government is increasing the amount of protected habitat from about 6,400 square kilometres to roughly 10,700 square kilometres.

The new protected area is intended to help recovery efforts for northern and southern resident killer whales, and covers an area off southwestern Vancouver Island.

The number of southern resident killer whales is down to 74 as the orcas face several threats, including a lack of prey, particularly chinook salmon, noise and physical strikes from ships, and contaminants in the water.

The state of Washington recently announced US$1.1 billion in spending and a partial whale-watching ban in an attempt to help the population’s recovery.

The money would go toward protecting and restoring habitat for salmon, boosting production from salmon hatcheries, storm-water cleanup and quieting vessel traffic.

Read more: Aerial photos reveal good and bad news about B.C.’s endangered killer whales

Read more: Conservation groups sue Ottawa to protect endangered killer whales

In Canada, the government says the announcement on Wednesday is in addition to $167 million in spending announced this year to help the whales.

Measures it has introduced include requiring vessels to slow down, tougher regulatory controls on contaminants and spending aimed at protecting and boosting the stock of chinook. Whale-watching vessels and other boats have also been ordered to stay 200 metres away from the animals.

“We know that Canadians care deeply about these whales,” Wilkinson said in a statement. “These new critical habitat areas will ensure that the ocean space that the whales frequent and forage for prey is protected for generations to come.”

The distinctive black-and-white orcas were listed as an endangered species in the U.S. and Canada well over a decade ago. Their numbers are now at the lowest levels in more than three decades.

One of the whales was seen this summer keeping the body of her dead calf afloat in waters off B.C. and Washington state for more than two weeks, triggering international media coverage of their plight.

The federal government’s approach to protecting whale habitat has not been without opposition as sport fishing, tourism and business leaders from across Vancouver Island warned earlier this month that jobs are at stake because fishing closures have been extended. Seventeen Chambers of Commerce on the Island have asked Fisheries and Oceans to consider the impact of its management measures on the economies of coastal communities.

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Snowfall warning continues for parts of B.C.’s Interior

First significant snowfall of the season prompts Environment Canada warning

Coastal GasLink receives first delivery of pipe sections

Company expects to begin welding and pipe laying in 2020

Northwest B.C. physician receives Medal of Good Citizenship Award

Dr. Peter Newbery was one of 18 people in B.C. to get provincial recognition

Northern Society for Domestic Peace remembers women killed in Montreal Massacre 30 years ago

Society will hand out 14 red roses, one for each of the victims, to women who stop by office today

Petition calls for appeal of Luke Strimbold’s sentence for sex assault

Prosecution service says the former Burns Lake mayor’s case is under review

VIDEO: Boys help rescue Cariboo bear cub

The cub, weighing just 24lbs, has been taken to wildlife sanctuary in Northwest B.C. for the winter

Campbell River mom’s iPhone containing priceless photos stolen from Victoria hospital parkade

The phone contained photos, heartbeat recordings of her late son

Miller nets winner as Canucks edge Sabres 6-5 in OT

Roussel, Leivo tally two apiece for Vancouver

‘Norovirus-like’ outbreak interrupts Bantam hockey showcase in Greater Victoria

Several athletes were sent home, quarantined on the ferry

$578: that’s how much your first distracted driving ticket will cost with recent premium hikes

Over 50 per cent of Canadians admitted to using phone while driving last year, according to study

Kelowna man attempts to steal bait bike from RCMP parking lot

38-year-old Brian Richard Harbison is facing several charges

‘Things haven’t changed enough:’ Ecole Polytechnique anniversary prompts reflection

Fourteen women were fatally shot by a gunman at the Montreal school on Dec. 6, 1989

Bear raids freezer, gorges on Island family’s Christmas baking

Hungry bruin virtually ignored meat and fish, focused, instead, on the sweets

B.C. pharmaceutical company’s stocks double in value after successful lupus drug trial

More than 40 per cent of patients using voclosporin saw improvements in kidney function

Most Read