I wanted to thank you for Tom Fletcher’s opinion piece (Penticton Western News, March 3, B.C. VIEWS: Killer whales are the new polar bears of politics).
Finally some factual, balanced information about oil tankers, marine traffic and resident orca populations off B.C.’s coast. You had to wonder why the governor of Washington State is so opposed to a pipeline in B.C., when Washington State has five refineries, pipelines and unrefined oil tanker traffic of their own. Turns out Washington State refiners get about 30 per cent of their oil from Canada, including from oil sands shipped by rail and pipelines. Could it be that Washington refineries benefit from limited markets for Canadian oil? Maybe it keeps the price of Canadian oil low? Most of Washington’s unrefined oil comes from Alaska, shipped past B.C.’s coast with much frequency. Somehow this isn’t a problem for the governor, or apparently for orcas and other marine wildlife.
One doesn’t have to dig very far to get the facts (i.e. credible information from actual researchers) about the issue of marine traffic, resident orcas and the long term state of this population. On the inside passage, B.C. ferry traffic is the most frequent and troublesome for marine life. From what I have read, noise from marine traffic has a far larger impact on the health of whale populations than ship strikes. Have you ever been on a B.C. ferry? I want to wear earplugs just sitting in the passenger section. Can you imagine the vibration and noise coming from these vessels and affecting marine life? Yet no one is talking about reducing ferry traffic. Resident killer whales have a very limited diet and declining salmon stocks are also a key issue for their survival. Undoubtedly their lack of success ‘fishing’ is compounded by noisy marine (ferry) traffic affecting their ability to detect their prey. Resident orcas have also had historically very low populations, as Tom points out. It is interesting to also look at the transient orca population, which despite the same marine traffic, seem to be at very healthy and stable levels.
I think when it comes to external parties, like the governor of Washington State, pitching in with their opinions about Canada’s resources, pipelines etc., we need to understand what may be behind them. Who benefits from shutting down oil sands development and shipments? If the governor is so concerned, perhaps he should start talking to the five refineries in his state. Tanker traffic doesn’t appear to be the biggest threat for resident orcas.
If you are interested in traffic risks related to oil shipments consider this: has the lack of oil pipeline capacity caused a spike in semi-truck accidents and associated deaths? Because a lot of that freight on those trucks used to be shipped by rail but that capacity is now displaced by oil-by-rail due to the lack of pipelines.