By George Yarbrough

On Nov 12, Southern Resident Killer Whales received greater protection in the United States when they were listed as “endangered” rather than “threatened” under from the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA). This is an important change, as members of the scientific community and the general public had previously suggested that the “threatened” listing did not provide enough protection for the small whale population. In contrast, the “endangered” listing has the power to affect marine activity in the whales’ habitat.

Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard, Vancouver Aquarium’s senior marine biologist, suggests that, “This might include changes to marine traffic patterns, restrictions to industrial and residential development, changes to military exercises, and even implementing measures to protect and restore local salmon stocks.”

The southern resident killer whale population has declined by 20 percent in the past 15 years, reaching a low of only 79 individuals in 2001. There are only a few sexually mature males in the population, leaving the population susceptible to inbreeding and environmental changes such as disease and marine traffic hazards. Hence, the push for greater protection in the United States under the umbrella of the ESA is an important step towards successful conservation of the whales. The southern resident killer whale population has been listed as “endangered” in Canada under the Canadian Species At Risk Act since the act came into effect in 2002