John Bennett —
Mine was in a University of Toronto auditorium listening to Greenpeace Founder Bob Hunter describe the first voyage to “Save the Whales” back in 1976.
“Save the Whales” became the catch phrase of the 70s, synonymous with environmental activism. There was even a Star Trek movie!
We did succeed in virtually eliminating commercial whale hunting way back when because all the great whales were an endangered species. There were no longer enough of them to sustain whaling.
So, it is with great concern I share the story of Iris — formerly known as Blue Whale B392. She is one of only about 250 Northwest Atlantic Blue Whales left. The story is not so much about Iris as is it about the Gulf of St. Lawrence (her critical habitat).
The Blue Whale was one of the first animals to be put on Canada’s endangered list when the Species At Risk Act was passed more than a decade ago. This should have triggered a scientific study to identify “critical habitat” followed by measures to protect whales, including marine protection zones. The study was promised but never delivered.
The Gulf of St Lawrence, where Iris has been sighted by the Mingan Island Cetacean Study many times over the last ten years, is one of the world’s most productive marine ecosystems and supports a significant fishery and tourism economy. This is a tremendous natural resource.
Unfortunately, whales are not a natural resource the oil and gas industry and politicians care much about. They have what used to be called ‘gold fever’ – a total loss of respect for anything beyond the search for riches. They have replaced, “There’s gold in them thar hills” with “there’s oil under there.”
Without waiting for the critical habitat study, the authorities have given the go-ahead to oil companies to look for oil with seismic testing and to drill. Drilling could begin as soon as this summer in a particularly unique and productive area of the Gulf known as Old Harry.
They say it can be done safely, but how can they know without a critical habitat study? This makes designating the Blue Whale as endangered meaningless.
Iris and all the other Blue Whales who swim in the Gulf of St. Lawrence are entitled to all the protections afforded by Canada’s Species At Risk Act starting with a critical habitat study.
She has waited more than a decade — that’s long enough.
Recent legal decisions have made it clear the federal government has a duty to obey the Species At Risk Act.
We need to remind the Ministers of Fisheries and Environment of their obligations to protect the Blue Whales from human threats, including industrialization of habitat.
The legal precedent and public pressure should be enough to force the government to act on Blue Whales (if we can make enough noise). If it doesn’t, we’ll (unfortunately) need to raise money to go to court.
Please send your letter and be heard today! The Federal Minister of Fisheries & Oceans and the Federal Minister of Environment need to hear from us!
As always, thanks for taking action today.
John Bennett is National Program Director of Sierra Club of Canada Foundation