Month: October 2017

Endangered southern resident orcas get 200-metre protection zone from boats

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.

Tucker the conservation canine, known for sniffing orca poo retires.

During the summers of 2011 and 2012 (and a number of times since then), I worked on a research boat looking at the endangered southern resident orca, a subspecies of orca found around southern Vancouver Island. Whilst on the boats we would often encounter other researchers and chat about the work they were doing. One of my favourite boats to see and interact with was the Conservation Canines program that researches animals and their habitat by using dogs to help collect poo. Now whilst it may sound strange, poo is highly valuable in wildlife research, the data collected from faeces can determine the health of individuals, as well as a population and give an insight into their life cycle. For the southern resident orca project the ‘Conservation Canine’ is Tucker, the black lab, and Tucker has helped the team to publish papers on the health and diet of the orcas, and to see the impact that toxins in the water are having on the population.

It was always such a joy to see the excitable black lab hanging off the front of the research boat hunting for orca poo. Tucker is a great example about how working animals, mostly dogs, are a vital part of conservation. Tucker started the program in 2006, and at the grand age of 13, he has been given a well-earned retirement, but I know that many people who have worked on the water with the orcas will be sad to see him go. But, the Conservation Canine program does not end with him, starting next year Jack, a 5 year old Australian Cattle mix, will be taking over and sniffing out that important orca poo!

Have a look at Tucker in action in this video by the BBC!

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