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Mr. Harper’s tar sands export agenda vs. whales

HumpbackHumpback whales on the Pacific Coast, beluga whales in the St. Lawrence River, and numerous species of whales in the Bay of Fundy are all threatened by Stephen Harper’s tar sands agenda.

Pacific Coast

In April, CBC reported, “The Canadian government is downgrading the protection of humpback whales off the coast of B.C. under the Species at Risk Act. …Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, with advice from Fisheries Minister Gail Shea, is recommending that the Northern Pacific population of humpback whales be downgraded from ‘threatened’ to ‘species of special concern’. The recommendation for the change to the Species at Risk Act was published in the Canada Gazette [on April 18].”

That move was made prior to the Harper government’s decision to approve the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline which would fill as many as 225 supertankers a year that would move through the waters described as a “critical habitat for the whale”.

The Gitga’at First Nation, which placed a crocheted ‘Chain of Hope’ across the Douglas Channel to protest the supertankers, has said humpback whales use this area as a place to practice their songs and “they won’t be here if there is increased tanker traffic and certainly won’t be here when there is a spill”.

St. Lawrence River
Beluga whaleA federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans webpage says, “The St. Lawrence Estuary beluga whale population is listed as threatened and protected under the Species at Risk Act. …Although whaling for belugas has been banned since 1979, there has been no noticeable recovery in the population.”

As part of the Energy East pipeline project, TransCanada wants to build a marine terminal in this area to load supertankers with bitumen.

In its pre-application for the Energy East pipeline, TransCanada said, “The Cacouna marine terminal will be located on the eastern shore of the St. Lawrence River in the immediate vicinity of the existing Port of Gros-Cacouna, QC. The marine terminal will be developed to support the loading of crude carriers which have a capacity of 700,000 to 1.1 million barrels of oil through a two-berth arrangement and a single trestle. These carriers are known as ‘Aframax’ and ‘Suezmax’ respectively.”

While it is the responsibility of Fisheries minister Gail Shea to issue a decree that the St. Lawrence Estuary is a protected zone under the Species at Risk Act to protect the beluga whales there as a species at risk of extinction, her ministry instead authorized drilling in the habitat for the Energy East terminal and muzzled federal scientists concerned about this.

Bay of Fundy
Minke whaleBayofFundy.com notes, “Up to 12 species of whales are to be found in the Bay of Fundy during the summer months. …The most commonly sighted whales in the Bay of Fundy are the Humpback Whale, Minke Whale, and Finback Whale. The endangered North Atlantic Right Whale, White-beaked Dolphins, Sei Whales and Pilot Whales are occasionally observed. And, although they are known to visit the area, it’s considered rare to see a Blue whale, Sperm whale, Killer whale, or Beluga whale.”

In November 2013, the Financial Post reported that about 100 crude carriers a year currently bring oil to the Irving deep water port and that this tanker traffic in the Bay of Fundy is raising concerns. The Globe and Mail adds, “[St. Andrew-based Matt] Abbott, who works with NBCC Action, the advocacy arm of the New Brunswick Conservation Council, [says] the tanker traffic is already disrupting whales and other marine mammals, and a double or tripling of traffic [with the Energy East pipeline] will only make matters worse.”

Irving Oil intends to build a new $300 million marine terminal near Saint John to export the bitumen brought there by the Energy East pipeline. It’s conceivable that the Energy East pipeline could result in an additional 225 supertankers a year travelling through the Bay of Fundy to markets in India, China and Europe.

Toronto-born Sea Shepherd Conservation Society founder Paul Watson has stated, “The fate of the whale is our fate, for when the whale is gone, the oceans will die and when the oceans die, we die!” As Mr. Harper ignores the realities of climate change to advance his agenda to massively expand the tar sands, we should also keep in mind the implications of his agenda on whales and the oceans.

Photo: Humpback whale. Beluga whale. Minke whale.