For Immediate Release
Lawsuit Forces Canada to Protect Endangered Killer Whales
Stunning policy reversal could mark turning point for 85 remaining whales
WASHINGTON - After
British Columbians celebrated the unexpected arrival of two newborn killer
whales last week, there is another new cause for hope for BC's imperilled killer
whale populations. This week, the federal government issued an Order that will
provide legal protection for the endangered species' habitat - a stunning policy
reversal after a lawsuit was launched by environmentalists last year.
The lawsuit was filed by
Ecojustice, formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund, on behalf of nine of Canada and
BC's leading environmental organizations. It alleged that the
Department of Fisheries
and Oceans had failed to require much-needed legal protection for the killer
whales' critical habitat. DFO had claimed instead that existing laws and
unenforceable guidelines were sufficient to protect the orcas' habitat from
serious threats like toxic contamination, acoustic degradation and declining
"To recover, killer
whales need more than the status quo from the federal government and so we're
thrilled our lawsuit forced it to issue this habitat protection Order,"
Ecojustice lawyer Lara
Tessaro. "Now we'll be pushing to ensure this Order leads to action."
The federal government's
complete turnaround marks a victory for BC's most iconic species and for the
environmental groups behind the lawsuit: Dogwood Initiative,
David Suzuki Foundation, Raincoast Conservation Society, Sierra Club of BC,
International Fund for Animal Welfare, Greenpeace, Georgia Strait Alliance and
Wilderness Committee. It also marks the first time that Canada has ever issued
an Order under its Species at Risk Act to protect critical habitat.
However, the Order does
not reference threats to critical habitat documented by scientists in the
government's Resident Killer Whale Recovery Strategy.
"We know we need to
change the way we care for our marine environment to protect killer whales and
their habitat," said Kathy Heise, Marine Scientist with Raincoast Conservation.
"We hope to work with DFO to incorporate the needs of killer whales' into the
management of our salmon fisheries."
"To give this Order
teeth, DFO must keep killer whales' critical habitat free of tanker traffic and
the risk of catastrophic oil spills," said Will Horter of Dogwood
Killer whales face many
serious threats throughout their habitat on the west coast such as declining
salmon stocks, increased boat traffic, toxic contamination, and acoustic impacts
from dredging, seismic testing and military sonar. DFO is scheduled to release
an action plan within the next four years, but still has not created an action
planning team with independent killer whale scientists.
"Each time we think the
government has finally given these ailing populations greater legal protection,
they find a way to avoid meaningful change. Is this another hollow promise or
will the federal government do the right thing and prohibit harmful activities
in the orcas' critical habitat?" asked Sarah King of Greenpeace.
Kim Elmslie of the
International Fund for Animal Welfare stated, "We will continue to monitor DFO
to ensure that every effort is made to protect this critically endangered
species for future generations."
"This is one landmark
victory on the long road to killer whale recovery. We're relieved to see the
government using the Species At Risk Act and we look forward to seeing similar
habitat protection Orders for other endangered species," said Aaron Freeman of
For more information,
please visit www.ecojustice.ca or contact:
Lara Tessaro, Staff
Lawyer, Ecojustice Canada, cell (604) 313-3132
Aaron Freeman, Policy
Director, Environmental Defence, (613) 564-0007, cell (613) 697-
Executive Director, Raincoast Conservation Society, (250) 655-1229,
Georgia Strait Alliance, (250) 539-2424
Colin R. Campbell,
Sierra Club BC, cell (250) 361-6476, office 250 386-5255 ext. 236
Gwen Barlee, Policy
Director, Wilderness Committee, (604)683-8220, cell (604) 202-
Matt Takuch, Dogwood
Initiative, (250) 370 9930 ext. 21
Communications Manager, IFAW Canada, (613) 241-3982 ext. 221
Sarah King, Oceans
Campaigner, Greenpeace Canada, (778) 227-6458
Sutton Eaves, Marine
Communications Specialist, David Suzuki Foundation, (416) 854-
For further scientific
information about Resident Killer Whales, please
Barrett-Lennard, Co-Chair of the Killer Whale Recovery Team, Vancouver Aquarium
at (604) 659-3752
To obtain video footage or
audio of the BC's killer whales, please contact Laura Hendrick, Ecojustice
Communications Coordinator at (604) 685-5618 ext. 242.