The Canadian government has removed the North Pacific humpback whale from the “threatened” species list. Despite opposition from several groups, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper downgraded the humpback whales classification to a “species of concern” under the Species at Risk Act (SARA).
The federal government claims that because the whale population has significantly increased since 2005, when it was first listed as threatened, it has reached a level where it can be reclassified. Ironically, this decision coincides at the same time that two major pipeline projects are waiting for approval.
If approved, the projects would allow oil tankers in the northern B.C. waters where the whales reside. Because these vessels sometimes collide with the whales it is necessary that they are no longer designated as threatened. If the whales maintained their threatened classification, the oil tankers would not be allowed to pass through the waters anywhere near the cetaceans.
“What we’re seeing is that the government is stripping the humpbacks of legal protection at the very time that the Enbridge pipeline and tankers project is posing a serious threat to their recovery and survival,” said Caitlyn Vernon, of Sierra Club BC.
Enbridge Northern Gateway proposed the pipeline despite opposition from environmental groups who say that the potential for oil spills, noise, and vessel collisions can be detrimental for the whales. The reclassification of the humpback whales removes them from being under the protection of SARA. Also, the whales’ central habitat which, currently includes areas near Kitimat, B.C., will no longer be protected. The whales will have not have any safe and secure place to live, or to feed and raise their young.
Karen Wristen, executive director of the Living Oceans Society, said that the decision “has absolutely no basis in science and is simply a political move to clear the way to approve the pipeline.”
“A change of status for these whales would place them in jeopardy of threats posed by Northern Gateway and the Trans Mountain expansion project,” said Chris Genovali of Raincoast Conservation Foundation. “I think the move to down-list humpback whales is a sleight-of-hand approach, which the government has used before to remove environmental obstacles that they fear are interfering with their stated agenda, which is getting Northern Gateway moving forward,” he added.
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