Southern Resident Killer Whale Symposium

October 10-12, 2017
Vancouver, British Columbia

What We Heard Report


The Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW) is an endangered population under Canada's Species at Risk Act. It is considered to be at risk because of its small population size (now at 76 individuals), low reproductive rate, and a variety of threats caused by human activity that have the potential to prevent recovery or to cause further declines. Principal among these threats are reductions in the availability or quality of prey, physical and acoustic disturbance and environmental contaminants.

The Government of Canada is committed to the protection and recovery of the SRKW, which is an iconic species of Canada's West Coast, and one that holds significant cultural value for Indigenous peoples.

In November 2016, the Government of Canada announced the $1.5 billion Oceans Protection Plan, which includes a commitment to address threats to at-risk marine mammal populations, including the SRKW. Through face-to-face and online engagement, the Government of Canada has been working with key stakeholders and Indigenous groups over the past several months to advance the understanding of threats to the SRKW population. To further this commitment, the Government of Canada will build on the extensive work already done to date and develop a strategy to address these threats in support of the species’ recovery.

The SRKW Symposium on October 11-12, 2017, in Vancouver, British Columbia, was a key milestone in contributing to the collective understanding of the threats facing the SRKW and the actions needed for their protection and recovery. The symposium was supported by technical sessions on the primary threats to the SRKW, held on October 10, 2017.

The symposium objectives were to:

  1. Ensure that all interested parties have a full understanding of the most recent science on the SRKW and understand the short, medium and long-term challenges with potential solutions that address the threats to this population;
  2. Promote further dialogue to improve our shared understanding of the complex issues and collective responsibilities among stakeholders with respect to the protection and recovery of the SRKW; and,
  3. Identify the relationships, partnerships and governance elements required to protect and recover the SRKW by taking into account the prospective roles and responsibilities, and cooperative research opportunities.

The symposium drew in 329 registered delegates from all levels of Canadian government, U.S. state and federal governments, academia, non-governmental organizations, industry, and Indigenous communities.

This report provides a summary of “What We Heard” from delegates and speakers at the symposium, so that all interested parties have the context needed to contribute to solutions going forward.

Discussions resulted in a number of concrete suggestions that the Government of Canada can undertake with the help of its partners to move beyond mitigation towards population stabilization and rebuilding. Delegates presented many and varied views over the course of the symposium, with a strong consensus established on the following:

As part of our commitment to the SRKW, we will work with all stakeholders and Indigenous groups to develop a path forward with key actions for the immediate and longer-term protection of this important and iconic species.


The Honourable Dominic LeBlanc, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

Key Messages

Minister LeBlanc acknowledged the Coast Salish people, on whose traditional territory the symposium was taking place, and outlined that the objective of the symposium was to create an environment for collaborative dialogue and develop collective responsibility for the SRKW’s protection and recovery.

The agenda allowed all key stakeholders and Indigenous communities to comment on the protection and recovery needs for the SRKW. The Government of Canada is already taking action to enable long-term recovery of the SRKW, including:

“Individually, each of us has the capacity to effect change in our own small way. However, if we want to see lasting and meaningful change on a grander scale, we need to collectively invest in the health of our oceans and manage our marine ecosystems more thoughtfully. By doing that we can not only reduce the stressors associated with human activities, we can increase the resilience of ocean species like the Southern Resident Killer Whale.”

The Honourable Dominic LeBlanc, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard


Natasha Rascanin, Assistant Deputy Minister, Transport Canada

Key Messages

Within the federal family, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), Transport Canada (TC) and Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) all have important roles to play in the protection and recovery of the SRKW.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is responsible for:
Transport Canada (TC) is responsible for:
Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) is responsible for:

As part of the Oceans Protection Plan, DFO was asked to conduct a science-based review of the effectiveness of the current management and recovery actions for three endangered whales including the North Atlantic Right Whale, St. Lawrence Estuary Beluga and Southern Resident Killer Whale. DFO shared the results of this review and consulted with governments at all levels, Indigenous groups, stakeholders and the public on priority actions, from June to September 2017. A “What We Heard” report from these engagement sessions will be published in the near future.

Finding solutions to the challenges is not something that one group or one level of government can tackle on its own, and the Government of Canada recognizes that multiple stakeholders and Indigenous Peoples have already been playing an important role in identifying, analyzing and testing potential solutions. Important work has already been started with domestic, U.S. and international partners, and we need to continue to work together to identify opportunities for action and cooperation.


Dr. Teresa Ryan, Tsimshian Nation; Tim Kulchyski, Cowichan Tribes; Carleen Thomas, Tsleil-Waututh Nation; Ray Harris, Stz’uminus First Nation

Key Messages

Killer whales are very important to First Nations, and are showcased in many stories. For example:

It is easy to say killer whales are important and iconic, but to First Nations it’s hard to relate how important they really are, and difficult to give context, because there are many stories, images and carvings of the killer whale.

In order to protect the killer whale, we have to understand the ecosystem, and take care of everything in the cycle, in balance.

Aboriginal Ecological Knowledge is complex. The Aboriginal perspective is holistic, whereas the science perspective is linear. These systems can complement each other, for example:

Species at risk are a critical concern to First Nations. The Species at-Risk Act is convoluted and difficult for First Nations to engage in. There are opportunities to look at broad scale issues, including impacts to killer whales and the state of watershed environments. Support is needed in protecting connections and taking care of obligations to future generations by providing diverse perspectives.

This year, smoke house drying racks will be empty for the first time in our lifetime. If our freezers and drying racks are empty, we know that the killer whale will be hungry just like us. Recommendations to the symposium include:

The return of the salmon and the recovery of the killer whale is possible if the Government of Canada leverages First Nations knowledge. First Nations heard some wonderful words from the government earlier in the symposium. We have the words, now the hard part is to make the music, so we end up with a song that we can all sing. We want to sing a song with everyone about how the salmon are abundant, the whales are happy and the clams are clean.


The Honourable Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport

Key Messages

The purpose of this symposium is to bring people together, to discuss the complex issues, options for action, and shared responsibilities associated with supporting the protection and recovery of the SRKW.

As part of Canada’s Oceans Protection Plan, the Government of Canada is investing close to $20 million over the next five years to chart high-traffic ports and nearshore areas in British Columbia. This new investment will contribute to safer navigation of British Columbia’s nearshore areas and will help protect the marine environment for the SRKW.

Along with DFO, TC is involved in several initiatives to better understand the impact of underwater vessel noise, and implement strategies to reduce its impact on the SRKW. We have identified potential solutions and some are being tested, such as speed reductions and cleaning hulls.

TC is working with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the State of Washington, and the International Maritime Organization, to share research and best practices, and identify opportunities for collaborative action. Meetings also take place regularly between TC and Canadian marine stakeholders, non-governmental organizations, industry, as well as with American partners, to identify opportunities for joint action and research. There are also many examples of research and actions that are already underway.

“Today’s conversations must focus on where we go from here. I ask you to be innovative; I ask you to be bold; I ask you to be constructive; be pragmatic; be honest. We need a collective plan that will be adaptive, integrating new data and information as it becomes available. We need our plan to be collaborative – no one can do this alone. We need our plan to be focused on the here and now, but also on the longer term.”

The Honourable Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport

Jonathan Wilkinson, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Key Messages

The Minister of Environment and Climate Change and the entire Government of Canada take the protection of endangered species seriously. We believe strongly that positive progress on the protection of Canada’s species at risk can be achieved through collaborative efforts, including multi-stakeholder approaches with partners and stakeholders.

Contaminants can originate from a number of sources, such as industrial releases, contaminated sites, or through wastewater effluent. Some of these contaminants can also travel long distances and it is therefore important that international action be taken. To address these contaminants, the Government of Canada participates actively in international venues to encourage global reduction and use. Through the Government of Canada’s Chemicals Management Plan, Canada is assessing thousands of substances and putting in place controls to protect human health and the environment.

Given that wastewater effluents contain contaminants, the Government of Canada is providing $400,000 in 2017 to the Canadian Water Network for a technical review of contaminants in wastewater and technologies to address them. Furthermore, the Government of Canada is contributing up to $170 million towards upgrading the Capital Regional District (Victoria) wastewater treatment plant and $212 million to improve the Lions Gate (Vancouver) wastewater treatment plant.

“To be successful, what we all require is a focus on science-based, thoughtful, innovative, creative paths forward - paths forward that will generate the biodiversity outcomes we desire while concurrently being sensitive to the legitimate concerns of all key stakeholders.”

Jonathan Wilkinson, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change


1. Prey Availability

Issue: The SRKW feed exclusively on fish. They forage selectively on Chinook salmon in the summer, while chum salmon are present in their diet from September to November. We do not yet understand their winter diet. Within Chinook salmon populations, abundance is declining as well as fish size and quality. Mortality of the SRKW is strongly linked to Chinook salmon abundance.

Overarching recommendation:

Specific recommendations:

2. Contaminants and the Food Web

Issue: Contaminants can affect the SRKW through acute or chronic exposure, or they may affect their prey.

Overarching recommendations:

Specific recommendations:

3. Noise and Physical Disturbance

Issue: The SRKW vocalize to communicate and socialize with each other, find food and navigate. Noise generated by human activities, whether chronic (e.g. shipping noise, ferry operations, whale-watching etc.) or acute (e.g. pile driving, blasting, seismic surveys, military sonar etc.), can interfere with the ability of the SRKW to conduct these essential life processes. It is estimated that ambient (background) underwater noise levels have increased an average of 15 dB in the past 50 years throughout the world's oceans (a 3dB increase represents a doubling of noise levels).

Overarching recommendations:

Specific recommendations:

4. Integrative Action on Threats

Issue: To date, threats to the SRKW have been discussed and managed in silos. The symposium was convened to help break down those silos and identify opportunities to address multiple threats simultaneously.

Existing gaps and potential solutions:


Terry Beech, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

Trevor Swerdfager, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Key Messages

The Government of Canada is firmly committed to recovering and protecting the SRKW and all whales. The spirit of the symposium and the clear desire to work together to solve the issues is very much appreciated. Senior leadership in the Government of Canada has taken note and we are ready to work together. We must find ways to continue to coordinate, collaborate, and share so that we can restore the SRKW population. We want to create a marine environment that we are proud of and that our great, great grandchildren will enjoy.

“As the current environmental stewards of our oceans, we need to collectively do more to protect these iconic marine mammals and stop their dangerous decline before it’s too late and cannot be reversed. The good news is that we are addressing this issue in an era that is defined by major investments in oceans science, an influx of marine technologies and a genuine spirit of collaboration. Regardless of what sector you work in, the people in this room represent some of the brightest minds in our oceans community. You also demonstrate a willingness to help this endangered species overcome the challenges they face so people and whales can once again live in harmony. I hope you agree that it has been a valuable opportunity to learn from one another, share our expertise and influence public policy. I look forward to working together in the months and years ahead and seeing what can be achieved when like-minded individuals join forces for a greater good.”

Terry Beech, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard


Oct 10, 2017 Technical Session 1: Contaminants and the Food Web
Chair: Dr. Peter Ross, Vancouver Aquarium
Technical Session 2: Noise and Disturbance
Chair: Dr. Kate Moran, Ocean Networks Canada
Technical Session 3: Prey Availability
Chair: Dr. Brian Riddell, Pacific Salmon Foundation
Technical Session 4: Integrative Dialogue Session
Chair: Christianne Wilhelmson, Georgia Strait Alliance
Oct 11, 2017 Welcome and Opening Coast Salish Remarks
Welcome from the Province of British Columbia
The Honourable Lana Popham, Minister of Agriculture
Symposium Address
The Honourable Dominic LeBlanc, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard
Setting The Stage For The Symposium: Government of Canada Overview
Natasha Rascanin, Assistant Deputy Minister, Transport Canada
Lessons Learned While Addressing The Three Key Threats
Panelist: Lynne Barre, SRKW Recovery Coordinator, United States National Oceanographic Administration (NOAA)
Panelist: Orla Robinson, Program Manager, Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program, Port of Vancouver
Panelist: Dr. Andjela Knezevic-Stevanovic, Metro Vancouver
Keynote Address: SRKW Ecology
Dr. John Ford, University of British Columbia
First Nations Review of Linkages Between Threats
Panelist: Dr. Teresa Ryan, Tsimshian Nation
Panelist: Tim Kulchyski, Cowichan Tribes
Panelist: Carleen Thomas, Tsleil-Waututh Nation
Panelist: Ray Harris, Stz’uminus First Nation
Oct 12, 2017 Call to Action
The Honourable Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport
Jonathan Wilkinson, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change
Review Outcomes of Technical Sessions
Path Forward
Panelist: Serge Buy, Canadian Ferry Association
Panelist: Christina Burridge, BC Seafood Alliance
Panelist: Robert Lewis-Manning, BC Chamber of Shipping
Panelist: Dr. John Ford, University of British Columbia
Panelist: Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard, Vancouver Aquarium
Panelist: Dr. Andrew Trites, University of British Columbia
Panelist: Dan Kukat, Pacific Whale Watch Association
Panelist: Dr. Teresa Ryan, Tsimshian Nation
Symposium Summary and Thank You
Terry Beech, Parliamentary Secretary, Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard
Trevor Swerdfager, Senior ADM, Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Closing Coast Salish Remarks
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