12 out of the 27 populations or species of cetaceans, including sea turtles, found in British Columbia are listed as “At Risk” by Canada’s Species at Risk Act.
In the hopes of promoting a safer co-existence between humans and nature, a new marine guide has been created.
The “Mariner’s Guide to Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises of Western Canada” highlights potential vessel impacts on cetaceans.
Executive Director of Orca Relief Citizens’ Alliance and former Special Agent-in-Charge at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Scott West says voluntary guidelines such as this only reach so far.
“Voluntary guidelines only work for individuals already committed to protecting cetaceans. Individuals with other priorities need enforced regulations.”
The mariner’s guide focuses specifically on vessel strikes, disturbance, underwater noise and pollution.
It says, studies have shown that ships over 80 metres long, travelling faster than 14 knots are more likely to kill cetaceans than those below 10 knots.
West says some cetaceans like orcas, are more negatively affected by underwater noise than others.
He adds, large vessels are generally “detrimental” to cetaceans.
“Large whales suffer from impacts with ships and many die. All cetaceans are acoustic animals and vessel noise masks their ability to navigate, communicate, and forage.”
In order to reduce the risk of vessel-cetacean collisions and disturbances, the mariner’s guide suggests a five step strategy.
As cited in the guide, vessel collisions are a recognized cause of cetacean death.
From 2004-2011, 30 incidents categorized as “definite” or “probable” were reported to the B.C. Marine Mammal Response Network hotline and investigated by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
Created by the Vancouver Aquarium’s Coastal Ocean Research Institute in partnership with the Vancouver Fraser and Prince Rupert Port Authorities, the guide compiles data from the marine transportation industry.
In order to reduce the cases of human-induced harm, West says government should “step in to adopt and enforce regulations” such as Water Protection Zones.
“Realistic approaches could consist of establishing protected areas or monitoring established shipping lanes and re-route them away from common or critical whale habitat.”
The mariner’s handbook falls on the heels of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s announcement of Transport Canada’s Oceans Protection Plan in November of 2016 and slightly preceeds Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s announcement of the Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area Plan in February of 2017.
With files from Koy Tayler