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Recovery Strategy for the Northern and Southern Resident Killer Whale

5.4 Effects on Non-Target Species

Objectives 2, 3 and 4 protect resident killer whale prey populations and their habitat from exploitation and degradation including contaminants and noise.  The spin-off effects of this are likely to be widespread and will be beneficial to human health as well as to a wide variety of organisms ranging from fish to sea birds, since all are affected by contaminants and exploitation. It is likely this benefit will far exceed the increased mortality of prey species associated with increased killer whale numbers.

5.5 Evaluation and the Status of Strategies for Recovery

The competent Minister must report on the implementation of the recovery strategy, and the progress towards meeting its objectives, within five years after it is included in the public registry… [SARA, S.46].

The recovery team will review the success of the recovery actions annually, and review the goal (interim measures of success), objectives and broad strategies in the recovery strategy within five years of its acceptance by the Minister. The following are examples of performance measures that may be used to assess the effectiveness of the objectives and strategies, and to determine whether recovery remains feasible.  Detailed performance measures will be identified more fully during the development of the action plan.

Table 5: Examples of performance measures that may be used to assess the effectiveness of the broad strategies used to achieve the objectives of the Proposed Recovery Strategy for the Northern and Southern Resident Killer Whales in Canada

Objective No. /Threat Broad Strategy Status Examples of Performance Measures for Broad Strategies and Objectives
Recovery Goal: Ensure long-term population viabilityMonitor population dynamics and demographyUnderway

Completion of annual censuses

Genetic sampling and analyses completed

Evaluation of population status to ensure growth

 Develop population modelsUnderwayModels developed that incorporate social and genetic structure and explain population trends
 Quantitative framework for understanding effects of threats on population dynamicsProposedModels completed that incorporate threats into population dynamic models
 Studies to identify role of culture in foraging ecology and sociobiologyProposedPeer-reviewed publications on role of culture in killer whale foraging
 Studies to identify role of culture in maintaining genetic diversityUnderwayBiopsy samples collected and analyzed to identify paternity
1.  Ensure adequate and accessible food supplyDetermine seasonal/annual diet/ energetic requirementsUnderway

Prey fragment samples collected year-round for multiple years.

Alternative diet sampling methods tested to confirm diet

Winter and spring distribution and diet of resident killer whales identified

 Identify key prey populations and feeding areasUnderway

Complete diet sampling of all members of population and during all seasons

Prey identified to stock, not just species

 Monitoring prey populations to detect changes in abundance or availabilityUnderwayPopulation assessment completed for all stocks identified as important prey for resident killer whales
 Protect access to important feeding areasProposedGuidelines developed for human activities in important whale feeding areas
 Protection of prey populationsUnderwayIncorporation of killer whale predation into fisheries management plans
2. Chemical and biological contaminantsInvestigate effects of contaminants on health and reproductive capacity of killer whalesUnderwayPeer reviewed publication on contaminants in resident killer whales
 Monitor pollutant levels in killer whalesUnderway

Extensive sampling of populations to establish baseline contaminant level

Completed analyses of contaminants in samples

 Identify and prioritize key chemical and biological pollutantsUnderwayCompleted sampling and analyses of contaminants in killer whale prey
 Identify and prioritize key sources of chemical and biological pollutantsUnderwayWater quality sampling in areas throughout range of resident killer whales
Objective No. /Threat Broad Strategy Status Examples of Performance Measures for Broad Strategies and Objectives
 Reduce introduction of chemical pollutants into environmentUnderwayMeasurable decline in contaminant levels in environment (prey, sediments etc.)
 Mitigate impacts of currently used pollutantsUnderwayEvaluation of effectiveness of legislation completed
 Mitigate impacts of ‘legacy’ pollutantsUnderwayPCB sources identified
 Reduce introduction of biological pollutants UnderwayEvaluation of effectiveness of legislation completed
3. Acoustical and Physical DisturbanceInvestigate short-term effects of chronic forms of disturbanceUnderwayControlled studies of whale/boat interactions completed
 Investigate short-term effects of acute forms of disturbanceProposedComplete controlled study of marine mammals in areas where seismic exploration is active
 Investigate long-term effects of chronic forms of disturbanceProposedComplete model that incorporates effects of increasing ambient noise levels on communication signals of resident killer whales
 Investigate long-term effects of acute forms of disturbanceProposedComplete controlled study of marine mammals in areas where seismic exploration is active
 Determine baseline ambient and anthropogenic noise profilesProposedComplete acoustic profiles of vessels most likely to be encountered by resident killer whales
 Develop measures to reduce physical disturbanceUnderwayRevised whale watching guidelines, and/ or regulations that reflect most recent understanding of effects of chronic physical disturbance
 Develop measures to reduce acoustic disturbanceProposedEstablishment of acoustic sanctuaries in critical habitat areas
 Develop measures for reducing disturbance to high energy sources of soundProposedRevised protocols for seismic and military sonar that reflect most recent understanding of physiological and behavioural responses to noise
4. Protection of critical habitatYear-round comprehensive surveys to identify important areas for killer whalesUnderwayWinter distribution of resident killer whales well understood
 Identify key feeding areas and other critical habitatUnderwayWinter prey of resident killer whales identified
 Protect access of whales to critical habitatUnderwaySanctuaries within critical habitat established
 Protect critical habitat from contamination, and physical and acoustical disturbanceProposedMeasurable reduction in contaminants in critical habitat
 Ensure prey available to whales in critical habitatProposedKey prey populations identified in critical habitat
 Ensure trans-boundary cooperation in identification and protection of critical habitatProposedFormal identification of critical habitat recognized by international agreement

Note:  A thorough listing of performance measures will be included in the action plan.

5.6 Recommended Approach for Recovery

The recommended approach for recovery of northern and southern resident killer whales is a single species, but multi-population approach that encompasses a variety of strategies focused on the threats to resident killer whales, their prey and their habitat.  At present, the recovery strategy for northern and southern resident killer whales does not directly link to any single species recovery strategies currently in progress in Canada. However, US agencies (NOAA and Washington State) have developed a proposed recovery plan for southern resident killer whales that will likely complement Canadian efforts on recovery (NMFS, 2006c).  As well, initiatives such as Environment Canada’s Georgia Basin Action Plan, DFO’s Wild Salmon Policy and Parks Canada’s Southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Area proposal and numerous Provincial Parks, including the Robson Bight-Michael Bigg Ecological Reserve established specifically to protect northern resident killer whales and their habitat will help to affect recovery by protection of at least a portion of resident killer whale habitat and their prey.

5.7 Target Date for Completion of Action Plans

Recovery Implementation Groups (RIGs) will be necessary to successfully achieve the objectives and approaches of the resident killer whale recovery strategy.  At least six RIGs addressing the issues of 1) population dynamics and demographics, 2) reduced prey availability, 3) contaminants, 4) physical disturbance, 5) acoustic disturbance, and 6) critical habitat, will complete the action plan within two years from the posting of the final recovery strategy on the public registry.  Sub-committees within the RIGs, such as those examining prey availability and acoustic disturbance, may be necessary due to the complex nature of these issues.