Canada Declares Humpback Whale No Longer Endangered

B. McPherson
This is what we stand to lose if Enbridge Northern Pipeline is completed.
The feds in Ottawa have with the stroke of a pen declared that the North Pacific Humpback Whale is no longer endangered. It is now merely of “critical concern”. It was only in 2005 that the Humpback was red listed as critically endangered.

 The SPLASH estimates for the combined Southeast Alaska and British Columbia feeding areas are around 3,000-5,000 (Calambokidis et al.2008)
…No comprehensive assessment of North Pacific humpback whales has been conducted by the IWC Scientific Committee. The evidence suggests that North Pacific Humpback Whales have been increasing, following depletion by whaling, but that this recovery is not yet complete.   ICUN Red List of Endangered Species

Environmentalists are crying foul at the federal government’s actions. There is a federal requirement that for critically endangered wildlife, the habitat must also be protected. Unfortunately for the humpies, part of their habitat lies in the area south of Haida Gwai and seaward of Douglas Channel. That area would be crossed by hundreds of oil tankers yearly if the Northern Gateway Pipeline were built.

Hard on the heels of a court order directing the federal government to present an overdue recovery, the Harper government has reclassified them.

Coincidence in timing? You will have to be the judge. It has been less than 10 years since they were considered so endangered that they were red listed. While the females can live for as long as 48 years and reproduce every two years on average, they don’t reach sexual maturity until they are six to ten years old. Each pregnancy is one year long. That’s long gestation periods combined with a long time until sexual maturity. Barring predation on the calves, that’s a big leap in a very short time to declare them safe.

These peaceful giants are well known to many on the BC coast. In the spring they may be observed from the western shores of Vancouver Island as they make their annual trek to the cool summer feeding grounds accompanied by their babies. The humpies overwinter in the Gulf of California, females delivering their calves in the warm waters.

The humpback whale is known for its long, complicated songs. Only the males sing, but they may do so for as long as 24 hours. It may be to challenge rivals.

When whaling pressure is removed, whale populations often experience a bounce back in population, but the modern world presents new dangers to the cetaceans. Entanglement in fishing gear and ship strikes are leading causes of death. The large freighters now in use are a particular danger to cetaceans. The International Whaling Commission estimates that 308 000 whales and dolphins a year die as a result of entanglement in fishing gear. They do not have figures for the number killed in ship strikes. Some crews report strikes, others do not. The very large freighter might not even feel a collision. The commission does have some sensible advice as they are compiling statistics.

There is no universal solution to the problem of ship strikes but clearly the most effective way to reduce collision risk is to keep whales and ships apart. IWC

The endangered woodland caribou occupy territory in the path of the proposed oil sands pipeline. There are an estimated 1500 left in the province. Wait for the magic of the pen to upgrade them too.


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