Ottawa enhances protections for endangered orcas off B.C. coast

VANCOUVER —
Expanded protections for endangered southern resident killer whales off British Columbia’s coast focus on contaminants, noise, physical disturbances and accessibility of chinook salmon, the orca’s primary prey.

The actions announced by several government departments Thursday include a ban on tourist or whale watching vessels with over 12 passengers until the end of June, a measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The federal government says areas of the Juan de Fuca Strait and Southern Gulf Islands will be closed for recreational and commercial salmon fisheries, with specific dates announced in June.

All fish harvesters are also being asked to voluntarily stop fishing within 1,000 metres of orcas throughout B.C. waters.

Interim sanctuary zones established last year for the whales off Pender and Saturna islands will be back up from June 1 to the end of November, a month longer than 2019.

Fisheries and Oceans says the population of the southern residents has fluctuated between 70 and 99 whales since 1976, and their small population size and lack of calves means the unique family of orcas is “facing imminent threats to their survival and recovery.”

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