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Posts tagged ‘species at risk act’

Take a Stand for Giants – 15 minutes or less of your time

[To jump directly to providing your input into the public consultation survey, click here.
Below I provide background and my answers to the survey in case that is helpful to you.]

The first Fin Whale I ever saw was killed by a large vessel.
Please don’t stop reading.

There’s urgency about what will happen with the protection of Fin Whales in British Columbian waters. And, there is something Canadians can do to take a stand that takes very little time.

Right now, it is being put forward that the protection of Fin Whales be REDUCED under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.  This is being considered when so little is known about them and their threats are increasing.

– We whaled them up to 55 years ago and it is not known how many there are now or if there is more than one population.

It is known that their threats are increasing. Fin Whales are particularly vulnerable to being hit by boats. They feed where there will be increased large vessel traffic, including LNG tankers. This will also increase disturbance from noise. Further, the changing climate will impact their prey. There has also already been an “Unusual Mortality Event” where is it is believed that warmer water led to more toxins being in the whales’ prey (domoic acid from Red Tide Algae).

The process determining if the protection of Fin Whales will be reduced in Canada or not involves an opportunity for public comment. This is not a petition. It is using YOUR voice to be part of the federal process that will determine the fate of Fin Whales. The deadline for comment is December 2nd, 2022. It is a short survey.

I share the above graphic showing the fate of that first Fin Whale I saw because I think it helps make clear how the second biggest animal in the world can be so vulnerable. Nature versus human technology, efficiency, ingenuity and, disconnect.

The reality of that first Fin Whale I ever saw is known because he got hooked up on the bulbous bow of the cruise ship after being hit. Apparently, no one on the vessel felt the impact. The fate of the whale was only known when the cruise ship came into the harbour in Vancouver.

It must have been the same Fin Whale we saw that day near Telegraph Cove because Fin Whales are such a rarity on the inside of Vancouver Island. We first saw the Fin Whale, and then we saw the cruise ship. And yes, this is the Fin Whale whose skeleton with shattered vertebrae now hangs in the Whale Interpretive Centre in Telegraph Cove.

Standing under the skeleton of the first Fin Whale I ever saw. Photo by Phil Stone Photography.

It’s so important to understand that the evolution (or creation) of toothed whales like Orca, required them to have biosonar / echolocation to detect their prey, etc. Baleen whales like Fin Whales and Humpback Whales do not have this biosonar. So often these giants are oblivious of boats, and many boaters are oblivious to how different these whales are. 

You may never have seen a Fin Whale. In fact, the only one known to be in the Salish Sea this year was killed by a boat. I’ll spare you the photos of him but you can see more detail at this link.

Fin Whales are more often off the Central and North Coast, Haida Gwaii, or in BC’s vast offshore waters. In having the privilege of doing surveys in these areas, I’ve seen them, and the overlap with large vessel traffic.

If the protection of Fin Whales is reduced, one of the most dire consequences is that there will be no determination nor protection of their habitat needs. There will also be far less priority for research into how many there are and how to reduce threats.

So about that short survey to provide your input.

The questions in the survey are simple.
Below, I provide the three main questions and answers that may be of use to you.

For more detail, see this link for the media release we did as the Marine Education and Research Society and the North Coast Cetacean Society.

The survey for public consultation is at this link.

My answers are below.

You will note that the survey only allows for brief answers which is why I have pointed to our media release which provides detail about the concerns.

1. Do you think the reclassification of Fin Whale (Pacific Population) from Threatened to Special Concern under the Species at Risk Act would have economic, environmental, cultural and/or social BENEFITS for you or your group/organization?

No. There would be no benefits to reducing protection for a species for whom threats are increasing and for which too little is known to justify reducing protection.

2. Do you think the reclassification of Fin Whale (Pacific Population) from Threatened to Special Concern under the Species at Risk Act would have economic, environmental, cultural and/or social COSTS for you or your group/organization?

Yes. There are significant societal costs to choosing to reduce protection for a species for which not enough is known about their population while threats are known to be increasing. This includes that it is acknowledged how vulnerable Fin Whales are to being hit by boats; that it is not known how many there are; and that it is certain that there will be increased vessel traffic and that increasing temperatures can impact their prey.

3. Should the Government of Canada reclassify the Fin Whale (Pacific Population) from Threatened to Special Concern under the Species at Risk Act?

It is the antithesis of precaution to reduce the protection of Fin Whales when there is so much that is not known about their population and when threats are increasing due to climate change, noise, and risk of collision.

As above, the limits on the length of answers in this survey (at only 500 characters for this question), did not allow for the appropriate opportunity to provide feedback. Therefore, reference this link for my concerns

4. Please provide any other comments about this reclassification consultation that you would like us to consider.

As above, it is not sufficient that the limits on the number of characters/words in this survey (at only ~500 characters / 80 words), did not allow for the appropriate opportunity to provide feedback on concerns. Thereby see the following link for my concerns

Basking in History – The Story of B.C.’s Basking Sharks

If you ever see a Basking Shark in British Columbia: call 1-877-50-SHARK (1-877-507-4275) or, if less urgent, email
Please see info below to aid ID. 

Photo by Chris Gotschalk
(Wikimedia Commons)

It’s a first. Canada has now (2011) acknowledged the endangerment of a marine fish species – the Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maxiumus). 

Basking Sharks used to be common in the coastal waters of British Columbia.  As the second largest fish species in the world, they could be half the size of a city bus (12 m and 4 tonnes) and could be seen at the surface of the ocean, “basking” there to feed on plankton. It’s a long-lived species too, believed to be able to reach 50 years of age.

However, even the most seafaring fisher is now unlikely to ever see one off the B.C. coast. There have been less than 25 sightings of Basking Sharks since 1996. So what happened?

We slaughtered them.

These sharks were put on the Canadian fisheries “Destructive Pests” list in 1949, and from 1955 to 1969 there was a federal eradication program directed at these benign, plankton-eating giants. In these years, the federal fisheries patrol vessel, the Comox Post, even had a blade mounted on its bow, designed specifically to slice Basking Sharks in half.

This species of shark has only the tiniest of teeth and does not compete for a commercial fishery like the sea lions, seals and Killer Whales that were also culled in that time period. The motivation for the “pest control” of these gentle giants was that they got trapped in gill nets, causing damage to fishing gear.

Click here for this annotated Basking Shark colouring sheet by Romney McPhie who is not only a shark scientist but clearly also an artist (and very skilled educator)!

Who we used to be. Blade on the front of the Comox Post. Source: Popular Mechanics 1956.

As an indicator of how far we have come since then, imagine the social outrage today if a magazine celebrated the ingenuity of the Comox Post’s blade, illustrating how the executioner’s tool was used accompanied by the text “Huge 30-foot basking shark is almost cut in two by sharp-edged ram. The sharks, floating lazily near the surface of the water, are no match for this skillfully handled vessel, which heads directly into a school and catches an individual shark before it is aware of its plight”.  November 1956’s edition of Popular Mechanics featured just that and the June 22,1955 front page of the Victoria Times included a photo with the text “This is a basking shark, basking and leering. But the smirk will soon be wiped off its ugly face by the fisheries department, which is cutting numerous sharks down to size” (from The Slaughter of B.C.’s Gentle Giants by Scott Wallace and Brian Gisborne).

Further: “After the initial flurry of press commentary on the shark blade in 1955 and 1956, the Comox Post went about its daily job, firing bullets into the occasional sea lion, seal, or merganser and slicing sharks when seasonally abundant. At the end of each fishing season an annual report was written, and over the years the entries for basking sharks appear to diminish. The blade was used over a period of 14 years in the Barkley Sound region, during which time 413 kills were recorded.” In 1956 alone, 105 Basking Sharks were reported to have been killed.”

Basking Sharks survived as a species for at least 30 million years but have been pushed to the brink extinction in B.C. by just a couple of decades of human intolerance, misunderstanding and mismanagement.

But as a testament to how quickly human social evolution can occur, we have gone from being executioners to acknowledging the species’ endangerment in just over 40 years.  In February 2010, the Pacific population received legal protection by being listed as “endangered” under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. The Recovery Strategy was finalized at the end of July, 2011. 

Only history will tell if our evolved enlightenment is enough or if it came too late for the Basking Shark and many other marine species. The fact that you care enough to read this blog item is every reason for hope.

Above: Basking Shark sighting July 17,2017 in Caamano Sound, BC. Video by Archie Dundas of the GitGa’at Guardians via Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Basking distribution.001

Presentation by yours truly and Romney McPhie of Fisheries and Oceans Canada for Ocean Day 2022.


Fisheries and Oceans Canada. 2011. Recovery Strategy for the Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus) in Canadian Pacific Waters [Final]. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Ottawa. v + 25 pp.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada. 2019. Action Plan for the Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus) in Canadian Pacific waters [Proposed]. Species at Risk Act Action Plan Series. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Ottawa. iii + 16 pp.

Species at Risk Act (SARA) Species Profile 

The Tyee, December 7, 2016, How BC Killed All the Sharks – Hysteria and a knifelik ram helped us slaughter the benign basking giants by Scott Wallace and Brian Gisborne

Wallace, Scott, and Brian Gisborne. 2006. Basking sharks: the slaughter of BC’s gentle giants. Vancouver: New Star Books.