For the Humpbacks, Timing is Everything
Last week, the feds announced the downgrade of Pacific Humpbacks from ‘threatened’ to ‘special concern’ on the species at risk list, lauding their remarkable recovery from almost total disappearance in the mid-1900s.
Great news for the whales… or is it?
This announcement was made the same week the federal government had a deadline to legally protect the Pacific Humpbacks.
Only one month ago, in March, 2014, a federal court judge ruled that the Ministers of Environment and of Fisheries and Oceans broke the law by delaying the production of recovery strategies for four at-risk species, including the Pacific Humpback, as mandated by the Species at Risk Act.
Unfortunately the recovery strategy for the Pacific Humpback Whale was only released last October, more than four and a half years past its due date, too late for consideration by the Enbridge review panel and only after Sierra Club BC and other environmental groups, represented by Ecojustice, took the government to court for this unlawful delay.
The recovery strategy identifies toxic spills and noise pollution from vessel traffic as threats to the humpbacks’ survival and recovery. The strategy identifies the whales’ critical habitat, clearly showing that the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway tanker route cuts directly through it. View the map.
The Species at Risk Act legally required the federal government to protect the whales’ critical habitat within 6 months after finalizing the recovery strategy. Instead, the government announced they are downgrading the status of Pacific Humpbacks to species of concern.
This change means the federal government is no longer required to legally protect the whales’ critical habitat from threats such as vessel traffic and toxic spills, thereby removing a legal obstacle from the path of Enbridge’s proposed pipeline.
It’s undeniably good news that the humpback whale population is increasing - this truly is a remarkable comeback that should be celebrated!
However, British Columbia's humpback whale population is still far below pre-whaling levels and their recovery is fragile. An oil spill in critical Pacific Humpback Whale habitat could devastate their population.
The risks from a massive increase in oil tanker traffic on our coast are not confined to humpback whales. Dozens of other species, as well as sensitive ecosystems, would be jeopardized, as would coastal communities dependent on tourism, fisheries and other economic activity that benefits from a healthy sustainable environment.
The threat to Pacific Humpback Whales is just one of many reasons the federal government must reject the Enbridge pipeline and shift away from fossil fuel exploitation to a low-carbon, clean-energy future.