Orcas Threatened by Maritime Shipping Plan, Tribes Say

orcas in the oceanSEATTLE (CN) – The U.S. Coast Guard’s failure to consult federal fisheries managers on a shipping-traffic plan that includes a significant increase in oil tankers violates the Endangered Species Act and threatens southern resident killer whales, according to a suit filed by two native tribes this week.

The Tulalip and Suquamish Tribes sued the Coast Guard in federal court for failing to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service before adopting a traffic-separation scheme that regulates commercial shipping in the habitat of threatened marine species, including the last remaining 78 southern resident killer whales.

The whales, also known as orcas, live in the waters off the coast of Washington state.

Whales are at risk from shipping traffic, including a “seven-fold increase” in oil-tanker traffic heading for Canada, the tribes say

“These threats have recently become even more pronounced with the Canadian government’s November 2016 approval of Kinder Morgan’s application to expand the TransMountain pipeline in Canada. The TransMountain pipeline will triple the amount of oil coming from the Alberta tar sands to marine oil tankers departing from Burnaby, British Columbia, resulting in a seven-fold increase in oil-tanker traffic moving through the San Juan Islands and the Strait of Juan de Fuca in Washington state.  Southern resident killer whales spend approximately half of the year in these same waters, hunting Chinook salmon. A major oil spill in these waters is an existential threat to this fragile whale population,” the tribes say in the complaint.

“Killer whales are revered by our people. They are part of our ancestral marine ecology and continue to be very important to our culture. They now face their biggest threat to date: the expansion of the TransMountain pipeline,” Marie Zackuse, Tulalip Tribes chairwoman, said in a statement.

Stephen Mashuda of Earthjustice, which filed the complaint, said in a statement the orca population is struggling to survive and “the last thing they need is the threat posed by 400 more oil tankers a year transiting their home waters.”

Chief Petty Officer David Mosley told the Associated Press the Coast Guard is reviewing the complaint.

The tribes seek a court order requiring the Coast Guard to consult with the Fisheries Service on a new shipping traffic plan that implements permanent measures to “ensure against jeopardy, prevent adverse modification of critical habitat, and minimize incidental take.”


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