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Right Whales closer to the brink
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Right Whales closer to the brink

[caption id="attachment_22697" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Stephen Hazell Stephen Hazell
Director of Conservation
and General Counsel[/caption] Twelve highly endangered North Atlantic Right Whales have been killed in the past month in the Gulf of St Lawrence and U.S. eastern seaboard by ship strikes and fishing gear entanglement. Unfortunately, the global population of these whales is only 500. Nature Canada applauds the decision by the Government of Canada to slow ships to ten knots (19 km/hour) in the western Gulf of St. Lawrence where the whales have been frequenting this summer. Clearly this decision will not be enough to reverse the decline of this species. First, the decision applies only to a small part of the range of Right Whales, and not to other important habitat such as the Bay of Fundy. Second, other threats to Right Whales such as oil spills from tankers, oil and gas drilling, seismic blasts and ocean pollution such as toxics and plastics garbage remain unaddressed. Nature Canada has been an active intervener in the Northern Gateway, Trans Mountain, and Energy East primarily to ensure that the impacts of these proposed oil pipeline and tanker projects on marine birds and mammals are well-understood before decisions are made. Nature Canada has joined the conversation and you can too-visit the Government of Canada’s Let’s Talk Whales to learn more. https://www.letstalkwhales.ca/  

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Listen in on an underwater musical… starring whales!
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Listen in on an underwater musical… starring whales!

Whales are social animals. Just like humans, they communicate by talking to each other: with clicks, squeaks, moans and murmurs that can help them navigate the ocean and find food. Just like bats, echolocation means that sound waves are sent out, bounce off objects and reflect back to the individual. This is also how whales navigate, assess their surroundings and forage for food. Underwater echolocation is even more efficient, since sounds travels faster in water than in air.

Toothed VS Baleen
Morphology of teeth and skull structure differ between the two major groups affecting the sounds produced by each. Toothed whales make clicks and squeaks, whereas baleen whales make moans and murmurs. All whales use very low frequencies and scientists need special equipment to analyze the sounds. Take a listen:

Humpback Whale Song

Sperm Whale Clicks

 
Feeding Communication
A group of whales is called a pod. Whales are social feeders and will come together to forage in busy prey areas. Sound is used to communicate between animals. Humpback Whales, for example, eat krill and small schooling fish. One whale will announce their find to the others and a feeding frenzy will begin. Listen below to hear contact calls: “moos” and “whups” and finally, a feeding cry that translates to: “look guys, I found the jackpot!”   [audio mp3="https://wxv73zw8wg-flywheel.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Humpback_whale_moo_etc_25Sep01@0840.mp3"][/audio] Contact Call: Moo. Courtesy National Park Service.   [audio mp3="https://wxv73zw8wg-flywheel.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Humpback_whale_whup_24Oct00@131753.mp3"][/audio] Contact Call: Whup. Courtesy National Park Service.   [audio mp3="https://wxv73zw8wg-flywheel.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Humpback_whale_feeding_call_29Jul00@133212.mp3"][/audio] Feeding Cry. Courtesy National Park Service.   Image of a Humpback Whale
Different Dialects
Humans aren’t the only ones with dialects! Studies dating back from the late 1960’s started to put the songs and sounds into like-groups and realized there was a pattern to the sets. They're also regional: songs that are heard in the Pacific are not heard in the Atlantic. Listen below to hear the songs of the Blue Whales from different oceans. These recordings have been increased by 10x in order for our human ears to hear.

Pacific Blue Whale

Atlantic Blue Whale

Play Time
In the deep blue, whales lurking underwater emit calls to announce their presence, to detect their surroundings and - sometimes - just because they want to! Whales produce some of the most haunting noises on earth. But if you can get past the eeriness of the sounds, you can appreciate the beauty of the songs.   [audio mp3="https://wxv73zw8wg-flywheel.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Humpback-Song-Sitka-Straley-45sec.mp3"][/audio] Humpback Whale Song. Credit Encounters. [audio mp3="https://wxv73zw8wg-flywheel.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/hbw_bubblefeed_snippet_Jul_21_2003.mp3"][/audio] Humpback Whale Vocals. Credit National Park Service. [audio mp3="https://wxv73zw8wg-flywheel.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/transientKWs_7_14_2005_10_32_16_12sec.mp3"][/audio] Transient Killer Whale Vocalizations. Credit National Park Service.  
Noisy Threats
Activity from cargo ships, cruise ships and fishing boats has increased in our waterways each decade. Together, this means an increase in the noise traffic of the ocean. This can create problems for whales, who have to use more energy producing louder noises and are confused by competing sounds. Fish are also sensitive to noise and vibrations and often run away, increasing the difficulty of a hunt.  
Want to help whales?
Whales on the east coast need your help! Over 20 species of marine mammals migrate through the Laurentian Whale Passage every year. Right now, the area is unprotected and at risk from oil and gas.

Say No to Commercial Whaling!
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Say No to Commercial Whaling!

The post below was distributed by Avaaz, a global online advocay community that brings people-powered politics to global decision-making. Nature Canada strongly supports the opposition against commercial whaling - this industry poses severe threats to biodiversity and the health of ecosystems.

------- ------- ------- ------- -------The international vote that could legalize commercial whale hunting is just days away. Over 800,000 of us have signed the petition to protect whales, and an Avaaz team is on the ground to make sure we're heard -- let's super-charge this campaign by hitting 1 million signatures! Add your name and then forward this message: Sign the petition! In one week, the International Whaling Commission will hold its final vote on a proposal to legalize commercial whale hunting for the first time in a generation. The outcome rests on whose voices are heard most clearly in the final hours: the pro-whaling lobby -- or the world's people? More than 800,000 of us have signed the petition to protect whales -- it's time to reach 1 million! At the whale summit in Morocco, an Avaaz team is setting up billboards, front-page newspaper ads, and a giant, constantly-updating petition counter -- all to ensure that delegates, from the moment they step off the plane until they cast their votes, will see from our explosive numbers that the world will not accept legal whale slaughter. Click to sign, and forward this email to everyone: https://secure.avaaz.org/en/whales_last_push/?vl< cl="615562601&v=6631" whales_last_push="" en="" org=""> Thanks to the worldwide outcry, many governments have already pledged to oppose the proposal. Each time the Avaaz whale petition added 100,000 signatures, it was sent again to the IWC and key governments -- some, like New Zealand, thanked all of us who had signed on. But pressure from the other side has been relentless. Now other governments, especially in Europe and Latin America, may abstain... or even support the proposal. The vote could go either way. Citizen pressure is our best hope. After all, it was an explosive worldwide social movement in the 1980s that led to the commercial whaling ban we're now trying to protect. As the International Whaling Commission meets in Morocco -- starting this Thursday, the 17th, with the crucial vote less than a week away -- let's make sure the world's voices are there to greet them: https://secure.avaaz.org/en/whales_last_push/?vl< cl="615562601&v=6631" whales_last_push="" en="" org=""> After the global ban was first implemented on commercial whaling, the number of whales killed each year plummeted from 38,000 per year to just a couple of thousand. It's a testament to the power of humanity to move forward. As we move to confront the other crises of the modern age, let's cherish this legacy of progress -- by joining together now to protect our majestic and intelligent neighbors on this fragile planet. With hope, Ben, Ben M, Maria Paz, Ricken, Benjamin, David, Graziela, Luis, and the whole Avaaz team P.S.: Despite the ban, Japan, Norway, and Iceland have continued whaling -- and are now pushing to make the IWC proposal as lenient as possible. Expecting permission to catch more whales than ever, Japan is reportedly planning to buy its largest whaling ship yet. Click here to sign the petition against commercial whaling! < cl="615562601&v=6631" whales_last_push="" en="" org=""> </></></>

The Northern Gateway: Another unsustainable proposal?
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The Northern Gateway: Another unsustainable proposal?

  Image of an eagle   The Great Bear Rainforest; First Nations lands, livelihoods and traditions; grizzlies, wild salmon, orcas and 28 Important Bird Areas; a tanker moratorium; Climate Change... these are just but a few of the many reasons a proposed pipeline to Kitmitat, BC for exporting tar sands oil should be of great concern to all Canadians. The project should have been reviewed through a public inquiry, but the government has instead established a Joint Review Panel under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Nature Canada recently joined 18 environmental groups in urging the government to undertake a much more comprehensive environmental assessment than is currently planned of the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Project. Enbridge's Gateway Pipeline Inc. proposes to construct and operate pipelines, 1,170 km in length, between an inland terminal near Edmonton, Alberta and a marine terminal near Kitimat, British Columbia. Approximately 500 km of the pipeline will be in Alberta, and 670 km in British Columbia. The project will include an export oil sands product pipeline, an import condensate (a hydrocarbon) pipeline, terminal facilities, integrated marine infrastructure at tidewater to accommodate loading and unloading of oil and condensate tankers, and marine transportation of oil and condensate. The scope of an environmental assessment is one of the most critical elements determining whether the review can be a meaningful exercise and contribute to sustainability. Does purporting to assess the environmental impact of this proposed pipeline without reviewing the impact of tanker traffic and of the increased oil sands production make any sense? To me, it's like calculating the harm done by a gunshot by considering the trajectory of the bullet, but not what it hits or who pulled the trigger. A recent Supreme Court decision states that authorities conducting environmental assessments can't scope the review to avoid addressing a project's full environmental impacts. So there is perhaps some hope that Minister Prentice will decide the review of the Enbridge Pipeline will be a meaningful one. The Joint Review Panel for the Mackenzie Gas Project put sustainability at the center of its assessment, released on December 30, 2009. While I have some reservations about their conclusions, their approach to sustainability should become best practice for all environmental assessments of major projects. It should be applied in reviewing the Northern Gateway project. Many don't want the pipeline at all. Stay tuned... Photo by Tom Middleton

Nature Canada Welcomes Announcement of Potential New Protected Area in the Northwest Passage
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Nature Canada Welcomes Announcement of Potential New Protected Area in the Northwest Passage

Nature Canada congratulated Environment Minister Jim Prentice, Inuit groups, the government of Nunavut and the Parks Canada Agency earlier this week on the announcement of a feasibility study for the creation of a National Marine Conservation Area in the Lancaster Sound region of the high Arctic. Protected areas like the one proposed at Lancaster Sound conserve some of our most important natural spaces, providing Canada and the world with clean air and water, abundant wildlife populations, and healthy communities and ecosystems. The region around Lancaster Sound includes bays, inlets and ice fields surrounded by high cliffs and spectacular fjords that stretch from Ellesmere Island to the Gulf of Boothia in the south to the waters surrounding Cornwallis Island to the west in Nunavut, Canada. This area has one of the highest concentrations of polar bears in the Canadian Arctic. Twenty Important Bird Areas are found inside or adjacent to the proposed protected area, providing essential habitat for large colonies of snow geese, ivory gulls, arctic terns and thick-billed murres. Literally millions of Dovekies, a small cliff-nesting waterbird of the high arctic, have been observed in the polynya at the eastern mouth of Lancaster Sound. Most of the world's narwhal and a third of North America's beluga whales spend the summers in these waters, as does the eastern population of the endangered bowhead whale. Marine ecosystems are as affected by human activity as terrestrial ecosystems; that's why a national system of marine protected areas is so crucial. We are encouraged by this effort to extend protection of wilderness areas in our far North, and hope it ultimately leads to permanent protection of Lancaster Sound. National marine conservation areas are protected under the National Marine Conservation Areas Act (NMCAA) from such activities as dumping, undersea mining, and oil and gas exploration and development. They include the seabed, the water above it and any species which occur there. They may also take in wetlands, estuaries, islands and other coastal lands. Some activities are permitted inside National Marine Conservation Areas, such as traditional fishing, but managed to sustain the long-term health the ecosystem as a whole. With talk of opening up the Northwest Passage to year-round sea traffic, and increased interest in oil, gas and mineral exploration in the arctic, it is with the highest urgency that the government of Canada lays down an aggressive protected areas network. The Lancaster Sound region is of the highest biological value, and must be protected from impending industrialization. Nature Canada advocated for the creation the National Marine Conservation Areas Act, and has been working since then to ensure that Parks Canada receives the resources necessary to establish these protected areas.

One Year Later, Bowhead Whale Sanctuary and Wildlife Area Not Yet Official
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One Year Later, Bowhead Whale Sanctuary and Wildlife Area Not Yet Official

An anniversary party is being planned by Inuit groups near the site of the future Niginganiq (Isabella Bay) National Wildlife Area, in part to nudge the feds into finally making the protected area official one year after its creation was announced. From the CBC:

The party will mark one year since the federal government signed an ...agreement for the 336,200-hectare Niginganiq site.
Located in Isabella Bay, on the northeast coast of Baffin Island, the Niginganiq National Wildlife Area will protect the essential feeding and resting grounds for thousands of bowhead whales. One year later, the sanctuary has yet to become a reality since the government still has to give it the official stamp of approval. [Inuit land-claims group] Nunavut Tunngavik president Paul Kaludjak told CBC News that it has been a long wait — one that could get even longer if a federal election is called this fall, he said. An estimated 1,500 to 2,000 whales inhabit the Niginganiq area during the late summer and fall feeding periods. The party is planned to take place in the hamlet of Clyde River, where residents have been trying to gain protection for the area since 1998. Some of Canada's best wildlife habitat has been set aside in a network of 51 national wildlife areas and 92 migratory bird sanctuaries that span all provinces and territories. Yet these protected areas are left largely unmanaged, and enforcement of environmental laws is sporadic. Wildlife research is only conducted regularly in a handful of locations. At the heart of this crisis is a lack of funding. Environment Canada, the federal manager of the NWA network, lacks even the basic level of funding to properly manage existing protected areas. Other major threats loom, including deforestation, oil and gas development, urbanization, invasive species, pollution, harmful public uses and climate change. Nature Canada has called on the Government of Canada to announce a funded plan to grow and manage Canada’s network of National Wildlife Areas and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, including updating its legal and policy framework (find out more).

List of Endangered Species Grows in Canada
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List of Endangered Species Grows in Canada

Last week the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) met to assess the status of wildlife species in Canada believed to be at risk of extinction. COSEWIC is the independent scientific advisory body that assesses the status of species under the federal Species at Risk Act.

COSEWIC summarized the results of the meeting as "From Abalone to Whales: Aquatic Species in Canada Face Risk of Extinction." Indeed, the message is clear, and quite grim, for two marine species, the American Plaice and the Northern Abalone.

Both species have undergone precipitous declines, with American Plaice suffering declines of 90% in some areas of Canada's east coast, and Northern Abalone still declining in British Columbia due to poaching. These declines have continued despite a 20 year moratorium on abalone harvesting and a long-standing plaice moratorium in some fishery areas.


The American Plaice is a flatfish, which, as a juvenile looks like a conventional fish, but as it develops into adulthood, its left eye migrates from the left side of its head to the right side, and from that point onward swims on its side.


The Northern Abalone is marine snail with a flat, oval-shaped shell mottled reddish or greenish, with areas of white or blue. It was the first marine invertebrate to be designated at risk by COSEWIC, in 1999.

The assessment meeting also brought some good news for a marine species - the status of Bowhead Whales in Canada's eastern Arctic has been upgraded to special concern from the previous status of threatened. Hundreds of years of commercial whaling had depleted Bowhead Whale populations but recent decades of conservation have resulted in increased numbers. However, COSEWIC notes, "Although the increased abundance is encouraging, the species faces an uncertain future in a rapidly changing Arctic climate."


Two Canadian bird species were also assessed as at-risk for the first time, Whip-poor-will and Horned Grebe (below). Whip-poor-wills are found across much of Canada, but, like many other aerial insectivorous bird species, habitat loss and degradation as well as changes to the insect prey base may be affecting their population.

Abundance indices indicate that Whip-poor-wills have declined by more than 30% over the past 10 years (3 generations), leading COSEWIC to assess them as threatened. Horned Grebes found west of Quebec were assessed as special concern. Canada has approximately 92% of the North American breeding range of this species, and long-term and short-term population declines have resulted from threats like degradation of wetland breeding habitat and pressure on their wintering habitats. Horned Grebes found in the Magdalen Islands were assessed as endangered. Their very small population size (average of 15 adult birds) makes them particularly vulnerable.

The Horned Grebe wasn't the only wetland species assessed as at risk. Northern Leopard Frogs (below), once ubiquitous wetland residents in many parts of Canada, were determined to be endangered in British Columbia (where they are now only found in a single population in the Creston Valley). The western boreal and prairie populations were assessed as special concern. The Maritime Ringlet, a specialist butterfly found only in Canada, and only in 10 coastal salt marshes in New Brunswick and the Gaspé Peninsula, was classified as endangered.

There are now 585 wildlife species in various COSEWIC risk categories, including 244 endangered, 145 threatened, 160 special concern, and 23 extirpated wildlife species. In addition, 13 are extinct and 45 are data deficient.



As always, Nature Canada will keep tabs on these assessments to make sure that the species receive timely listing under the Species at Risk Act, so that they and their habitats are protected.



photo: Elena Kreuzbert (frog), Vladamir Morozov (grebe)

Killer Whales win habitat protection
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Killer Whales win habitat protection

Good news to report for Killer Whales in BC this week: the federal government has issued an order that provides legal protection for this endangered species' habitat.

This order comes after a lawsuit was launched by environmental groups in October when the feds decided to not protect killer whale critical habitat after they had formally identified it as part of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) process.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans had claimed that existing legislation and guidelines were enough to protect the whales' habitat, but environmentalists argued that these provisions were weak, insufficient and clearly not effective given the perilous status of the whales. This order will make it illegal to destroy the critical habitat of the Northeast Pacific Northern and Southern Resident populations of Killer Whales. Other articles on this victory are here and here.
This order is big news for SARA implementation too. The federal government has been very slow to formally identify critical habitat for species at risk, and its track record of actually protecting critical habitat once identified has been downright abysmal. This order is a step in the right direction towards putting into place concrete measures under SARA that will ensure that the habitat needed for the survival and recovery of species at risk is safeguarded.
This news follows close on the heels of another positive development for Killer Whales this week - two new baby whales have been spotted off the coast of Vancouver Island, bringing the total population of the Southern Resident population to 85. Way to go, whales!

Status of Endangered Animals and Other Species to be Assessed This Week
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Status of Endangered Animals and Other Species to be Assessed This Week

Starting Tuesday, I'll be attending a meeting of experts as they assess the status of 21 Canadian species (and species populations) suspected of being at risk of extinction or extirpation. The meeting is held by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), an independent expert committee that uses science and Aboriginal or community knowledge to identify and assess species at risk. Species that COSEWIC assesses as at risk are subsequently considered by the government for listing under the Species at Risk Act. Twelve of the 21 species up for consideration are ones that COSEWIC will be assessing for the first time at this meeting. This includes Band-tailed Pigeon, which is North America’s largest pigeon and is found in Canada in British Columbia. Not to be confused with the introduced Rock Pigeon, the Band-tailed Pigeon is a native species, and frequently feeds on berries and seeds at the top of trees. Band-tailed Pigeons have experienced a steady population decline since the 1960s, and as a result the National Audubon Society considers them a watch-list species. Nine species/populations are scheduled to be re-assessed by COSEWIC. The committee reviews the status of all assessed species every ten years, or more frequently if it believes that the status of species has changed. Species to be re-assessed at this meeting include the Lake Chubsucker (a freshwater fish found in Ontario, currently designated as Threatened), and five populations of both transient and resident Killer Whales from the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The Northeast Pacific southern resident Killer Whale population, currently listed as endangered, is doing particularly poorly – there are only 83 animals left in this population which has declining birth rates and poor condition, possibly due to a shortage of the salmon that they feed on. Recently, a coalition of environmental groups launched legal action against the feds in order to get them to comply with their own Species at Risk Act and protect the critical habitat of these whales. I will be attending the COSEWIC meeting in the role of “continuing observer,” a position that Nature Canada has held for four years. Nature Canada has a long history of involvement in COSEWIC – we were a founding member of the committee and sat at the assessment table for many years. We continue to be involved as an observer to ensure that the assessment process remains rigorous and unbiased, and to learn as much as possible about the assessed species so that we can fight for them to be added to the legal list of species given protection under the Species at Risk Act.

Photo of Band-tailed Pigeon: Jim Dubois

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