Humpback whales are doing just fine, Canadian officials have decided. Nevertheless, the current plan to eliminate the “threatened” status for humpbacks residing off the coast of British Columbia and thereby remove governmental protections for the species has many environmentalists concerned, reports CBC News.
Primarily, conservationists are skeptical about the timing of this decision. With the Canadian government poised to approve the Northern Gateway pipeline project in a couple of months, critics find it a little too convenient that changing the whales’ designation would suddenly enable oil companies free passage through the humpbacks’ favorite waterways.
If approved, the Northern Gateway pipeline would send oil tankers right through areas where humpbacks raise their children and eat. Since ship collisions are one of the prime killers of whales, this change would leave humpbacks vulnerable to fatalities. On top of that, the heightened risk of an oil spill could prove even more devastating by poisoning the whales. Some biologists believe that the whales would be displaced altogether by the sudden tanker traffic and search for other habitats (which aren’t exactly plentiful) that lack the constant interruptions.
Contributing to the suspicious timing theory is that biologists first recommended that humpback whales could be taken off the threatened list three years ago. At the time, government officials decided to ignore that recommendation because the majority of the public wanted to continue prioritizing the protection of the whales. Apparently, this popular opinion holds less weight now that corporate oil interests come into play.
Not everyone has a bleak perspective on the anticipated status change, however. “This is actually a good news story,” said Andrews Trites, a marine mammal biologist. “We’re seeing more humpback whales in B.C. than we’ve ever seen before.” From his research, he believes that more than 2,000 whales spend time off the coast of British Columbia and that the population is currently growing at an impressive rate of 4 percent each year.
Fortunately, the whales would not be forgotten altogether. Rather than being labeled a “threatened” species, they would instead officially be designated a “species of special concern.” Although protections would be limited for the humpback population under this new status, the whales would be continually monitored and the government would need to develop a “management plan” for the species.
Environmentalists argue that even if the humpback population has rebounded, its numbers would decrease again once the protections were removed. While Trites acknowledges that the threats activists have listed are likely to do significant damage, hypotheticals are not enough to alter policy. “We can only change things that are real,” he said. In other words, prevention is not a good enough reason – many whales would actually have to start dying again for subsequent changes to be made.
Would it be easy to reinstate humpback whales as “threatened” in B.C. if the pipeline project was found to endanger them? Certainly, it’s not hard to figure that once the oil industry successfully sets up shot in that part of the ocean that it’ll be hard to take it back.
Therefore, the best move is to convince the government not to follow through on the plan to un-”threaten” the humpback whales in the first place. Sign this petition urging Canadian officials to keep the current protections in place.