When the announcement was made that humpback whales would no longer be protected as a "threatened" species in Canada, the public was furious. To many, this represented positive proof that the federal government would do anything to promote the Northern Gateway pipeline -- including meddling with the protection of humpback whales to get them out of the way of development. Our government has a lot to answer for in the area of environmental management, but the outcry in this case is misguided.
In Canada, we have every reason to take an international leadership position on this issue. There are deep cultural connections between whales and our coastal communities -- and economic ones too. Whale watching has grown exponentially in recent decades, part of a global $2.1 billion (U.S.) industry.
Of 345 species at risk in Canada, more than 160 have waited far too long for recovery strategies. Thanks to a recent federal court decision, four luckier ones are finally getting overdue plans detailing steps needed to save and protect them. But court victories are just a start. It will take political will to ensure species and their habitats get the protection they need.
Human-caused noise pollution harms whales, leading to death, stranding, temporary and permanent hearing loss and hemorrhaging around the brain, ears and other tissues. Sonar used in naval training is a major cause of these debilitating and often deadly injuries to whales and other aquatic animals. With their sensitive hearing, marine mammals are particularly vulnerable.