Canadian Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc announced today that new regulations would be put in place to ensure that boats will have to remain 200-metres from southern resident orcas. Currently the guidelines in Canada are that boats should be 100-metres away from marine life, however this is just a guide, not a requirement. In the USA the law is stricter, boats are required to keep 200-metres away from orcas, something that now the Canadian government will enforce.
This news has been welcomed by orca conservationists, and personally I am thrilled, this topic was the subject of my dissertation. I looked at the impact boat distance had on southern resident orca behaviour, comparing the difference in distance across the Canada-USA border. I found that the extra 100 metres the orcas are given in the USA had a positive impact on their behaviour. As well as this, there was a lot of confusion from boaters about the regulations in the orcas’ habitat, the Salish Sea. The international border runs through the sea meaning that two different regulations are in place, leading to confusion and often illegal activity, particularly with boaters getting too close to orcas in American waters.
I am happy to see the Canadian government take a first step towards conserving the endangered whales, however there is a real need for more action. A study published today shows a 25% chance that these iconic whales could be lost within the next 100 years. With appropriate and resolute actions, however, this risk of extinction could be significantly reduced. It found that increasing the abundance of their main prey, chinook salmon, and reducing vessel disturbance further are the key areas that now have to be implemented. I encourage anyone reading, who is a Canadian citizen/resident to speak with their MP about the need for greater protections for endangered orcas in Canada.