Friday, March 23, 2012

Did The Canadian Navy Blow Up an Endangered Local Resident Orca?

Five weeks ago, the body of an orca belonging to one to one of the local and endangered resident pods washed up on a Washington State beach. An examination of three year-old L-112, known as Sooke, showed she died of massive internal trauma, with one witness describing by saying, “One half of this poor little whale’s brain was just soup.”
The CBC reported:
"The entire body showed evidence of massive blunt trauma, some sort of pressure wave that was very blunt in nature not the pointed bow of a ship or anything," said Ken Balcomb, senior scientist at the Center for Whale Research at Friday Harbour, Wash., about 15 kilometres east of Victoria.
Balcomb suspects the animal was killed by an explosive device, one of 96 the U.S. Navy deployed in the area in 2011.
"I suspect she died in U.S. waters. And probably from an explosion,” Balcomb said. “We're seeking information about what explosions at least the navy would be aware of."
Balcomb suspects that more orcas may have been killed in the explosion as orcas often travel in close proximity to each other, although this won't be known until L-Pod returns to the Juan de Fuca straight this summer. The CBC report continues:
The scientist said he hopes an investigation by the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service will get access to the Navy's classified documents on its activities.
However, a spokesperson for the U.S. Navy denies it conducted any exercises using explosives in the area in February.
The Royal Canadian Navy told CBC News it did use sonar in the Strait of Juan de Fuca Feb. 6, but that no marine mammals were in the area at that time.
But some environmentalists are not satisfied.
“We'd like the navy to release the data on what they were doing,” said Jay Ritchlin, of the David Suzuki Foundation.
“We'd also, basically, just like them to understand and acknowledge that this is a critical habitat for these whales and should be designated as off limits for this kind of sonar training."
While American military officials denied using explosives during the February exercises, Canadian naval spokespeople have admitted that the Canadian Navy did use explosives during exercises during the same time, releasing this statement: “On Feb. 6, HMCS Ottawa was operating in Juan de Fuca Strait, specifically in Constance Bank, conducting workups training, including a period of sonar use and two small underwater charges as part of an anti-submarine warfare exercise.” The statement goes on to say, "HMCS Ottawa followed the Marine Mammal Mitigation Policy prior to and during the period when they were using the ship's sonar. There were no reports, nor indications of marine mammals in the area."
Several environmental groups are calling for an end to military exercises in the area, saying in a statement, "This population of killer whales is listed as endangered under Canada's Species at Risk Act and the legal obligation to protect their critical habitat was recently reinforced by the courts."
Will the federal government, now obligated to protect the critical habitat of B.C.'s southern resident killer whales, instruct the Canadian Navy to no longer hold exercises in local waters that are critically important to orca habitat? It seems ridiculous that sonar and explosives are still allowed to be used in waters used by the local resident orca pods. Sadly, our government does not have a good record as a custodian of the ocean's biodiversity.
The three resident pods held 87 orcas at last count.


  1. I wonder how many other casualties there were not just including Killer Whales. Something of this nature must also effect all species. This is so sad to see Sooke like this and what ever or who ever is responsible must be held accountable.

  2. This is such a sad story. Thanks for giving it a wider audience. When we paddle on the surface, we can't see what's going on down below. Something that worries me more and more as a paddler with what we are finding on islands and shorelines.