Sidney, British Columbia: The Government of Canada has said that the protection of Southern Resident Killer Whales and other cetaceans has become a priority.
“That is why we are taking strong, consistent action to prevent vessel strikes, entanglements and other threats facing these creatures,” the government said in a statement this week.
As part of this effort, the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) has announced a first-of-its-kind Marine Mammal Desk co-located within the CCG’s Marine Communications and Traffic Services Centre (MCTS) in Sidney, British Columbia.
The new Marine Mammal Desk will report whale sightings in real-time and advise vessel traffic by providing enhanced situational awareness of the activities of Southern Resident Killer Whales and other cetaceans, such as humpback and grey whales.
Staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the new Marine Mammal Desk leverages modern technologies including radar and Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) and real-time vessel movement information. It will support partners like Transport Canada by safekeeping Southern Resident Killer Whale Interim Sanctuary Zones for compliance by
commercial vessels and pleasure craft.
Any violations will be reported to both Transport Canada and enforcement agencies, such as Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Conservation and Protection branch and Parks Canada, for disciplinary action.
The Marine Mammal Desk will also take reports of Southern Resident Killer Whales and other cetacean sightings from sources such as CCG vessels, light stations, and aircraft operated by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the CCG and Transport Canada.
This information will be forwarded to on-water enforcement agencies to ensure the protection of the mammals as well as reported to the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network.
The data collected will help inform Canada’s decisions for future protection initiatives.
The Marine Mammal Desk will also act as a back-up to reporting systems, such as the Marine Mammal Incident Reporting Hotline operated by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
Mariners and the public can call the Hotline to report injured, sick, distressed or deceased marine mammals. If for any reason a vessel can not contact the hotline, they can contact the Marine Mammal Desk who will ensure the required agencies are alerted to the incident.
Bernadette Jordan, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, said: “Our government continues to find new, more effective ways to protect our Southern Resident Killer whales, and we’re seeing promising results. I’m so proud that today Canada will be home to the first Marine Mammal Desk.
This is an exciting innovation that will allow us to track and report of whale sightings in real time. The Southern Resident Killer Whale is an icon of our pacific coast, and we want to see its population protected – and revived – for generations to come.”
Terry Beech, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, and Member of Parliament for Burnaby NorthSeymour said: “I am thrilled that the Province of British Columbia will be home to the first-ever Marine Mammal Desk. The Southern Resident Killer Whale is vital to us on the West coast and we must do everything in our power to protect them. The Marine Mammal Desk will ensure around the clock monitoring, a welcome addition to making our waters safer for all cetaceans.”
Omar Alghabra, the new Minister of Transport, added: “The new Marine Mammal Desk supports the survival and recovery of the Southern Resident killer whale population, which continues to be a priority for the Government of Canada. It will serve as our eyes on the water, providing us with real-time information about how our efforts to protect the iconic Southern Resident killer whales are really doing.”
• The Government of Canada works with Provincial, First Nations, academic and private-industry partners to protect Southern Resident Killer Whales in British Columbia.
• The Marine Mammal Desk is co-located within CCG’s MCTS in Sidney, BC. MCTS is a national program that provides communication for ships in distress, reduces the probability of vessel collisions and groundings through the monitoring of vessel traffic movements, and is the cornerstone infrastructure for the collection and dissemination of marine information in Canadian waters.
• The MCTS program ensures a reliable communication system is available 24/7/365 to contribute to the safety of life at sea, the protection of the marine environment, the safe and efficient navigation of shipping in Canadian waterways, and maritime domain awareness.
• The establishment of the Marine Mammal Desk has been funded as part of the Government of Canada’s commitment to implement the Canada Energy Regulator’s recommendations on the Trans Mountain Expansion Project. Specifically, recommendation #5, that the Government should implement a program to offset both the increased underwater noise and the increased strike risk posed to Species at Risk Act-listed marine mammal and fish species (including Southern Resident Killer Whales) due to project-related marine shipping.
• The Marine Mammal Desk is staffed by five specially trained officers and became operational at the end of October 2020.
• Members of the public should call the DFO Marine Mammal Incident Reporting Hotline at 1-800-465-4436, to report occurrences such as whale sightings or instances of whales being harassed or disturbed. The Marine Mammal Desk is also able to provide mariners with information on Transport Canada’s Interim Order for the Protection of Southern Resident Killer Whales.