Humpback protections downgrade clears way for pipeline

April 22, 2014
The tail of a humpback whale emerges from the surface of the Pacific Ocean in Colombia, on July 22, 2011

Environmentalist activists on Tuesday decried Canada's downgrading of humpback whale protections, suggesting the decision was fast-tracked to clear a major hurdle to constructing a pipeline to the Pacific Ocean.

The government however denied it is playing pipeline politics with the whales.

Ottawa announced over the weekend the reclassification of humpback whales as a "species of special concern" rather than "threatened."

As a result, the humpback's "critical habitat" off Canada's west coast will no longer be legally protected, states a federal government notice published in the Canada Gazette.

Jay Ritchlin of the David Suzuki Foundation told AFP that the decision was taken "incredibly fast."

"That it is happening right at the same time that a major development (the Northern Gateway pipeline) is being proposed is a reasonable concern," he added.

The opposition New Democrats also accused the ruling Tories of acting "to please their friends in the oil industry and pave the way for the Northern Gateway pipeline."

The government however insisted that it was simply "following the advice of an independent body of experts."

The humpback was listed as threatened in 2005, based on a 2003 assessment by a scientific advisory panel, which concluded its population was in the "low hundreds," according to the government.

The figures were revised in 2011, concluding that the population had in fact grown since the end of commercial whaling off Canada's in the 1960s, and now totalled more than 18,000.

A reclassification was recommended then, but a decision was delayed to allow for more analysis.

The David Suzuki Foundation and others warned during last year's public hearings on the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal that plans to mitigate shipping's impact on the whales was inadequate.

Whale proponents worry that the increased ship traffic in the region will result in more collisions with whales, and engine noises disrupting the whales' migration and feeding.

"The whales have made a recovery and their population is growing," Ritchlin acknowledged. But, he added, it's too soon to remove their habitat protections.

Enbridge Inc.'s Northern Gateway project aims to move 525,000 barrels of crude per day from Edmonton, Alberta across 1,178 kilometers (732 miles) of rugged mountain landscapes to a new marine terminal in Kitimat on British Columbia's northern coast, for shipping to Asia.

The Kitimat marine terminal would have two tanker berths, three condensate tanks and 16 oil storage tanks.

Up to 220 supertankers would use the terminal each year, one report estimated.

A final decision on whether to allow the project to proceed now rests with the federal cabinet, which has until July 2014 to announce its decision.

Explore further: Humpback whales rebounding on Brazil's coast

Related Stories

Humpback whales rebounding on Brazil's coast

September 2, 2012

(AP)—An institute that tracks the population of Humpback whales that reproduce along Brazil's coast says the number of the once-threatened mammals has tripled over the last 10 years.

Pacific humpback whale abundance higher in British Columbia

September 11, 2013

Humpback whale populations are on the rise in the coastal fjords of British Columbia, doubling in size from 2004 to 2011, according to results published September 18 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Erin Ashe from the ...

Recommended for you

Scientists overcome key CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing hurdle

December 1, 2015

Researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT have engineered changes to the revolutionary CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing system that significantly cut down on "off-target" ...

Study finds 'rudimentary' empathy in macaques

December 1, 2015

(—A pair of researchers with Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and Université Lyon, in France has conducted a study that has shown that macaques have at least some degree of empathy towards their fellow ...

Which came first—the sponge or the comb jelly?

December 1, 2015

Bristol study reaffirms classical view of early animal evolution. Whether sponges or comb jellies (also known as sea gooseberries) represent the oldest extant animal phylum is of crucial importance to our understanding of ...

Trap-jaw ants exhibit previously unseen jumping behavior

December 1, 2015

A species of trap-jaw ant has been found to exhibit a previously unseen jumping behavior, using its legs rather than its powerful jaws. The discovery makes this species, Odontomachus rixosus, the only species of ant that ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.