'Environmental emergency': Fear for B.C.'s endangered orcas after U.S. boat sinks in critical feeding spot
A fishing boat that sank with nearly 10,000 litres of fuel on board near the Canada-U.S. marine border went down in one of the worst possible places for endangered orcas, an ocean pollutants expert says.
Peter Ross, a senior scientist with Raincoast Conservation Foundation, said the vessel sank in an important feeding area for endangered southern resident killer whales. It will be a race against time to clean up the spill, he said.
“The very worrying part of this entire incident is that it happened probably in the worst place of all for southern resident killer whales, right in the middle of critical habitat,” Ross said.
The area is protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, he said, because it's a popular fishing spot for the orcas. Chinook salmon, the whales' main prey and a species facing its own survival challenges, swim along bluffs on San Juan Island, creating a feeding channel for the orcas, he said.
There are only 74 southern resident killer whales remaining and the federal government says the main threats to the species are contaminants, declining chinook populations and acoustic disturbances.
The U.S. Coast Guard said Monday the whales were last spotted west of Port Angeles, at least 50 kilometres from the spill site, but Ross said that's not more than a day's journey for the orcas.
The Aleutian Isle sank Saturday off San Juan Island, roughly 25 kilometres east of Victoria, and its five crew members were rescued by a Good Samaritan, the U.S. Coast Guard has said.
The vessel is under about 30 metres of water and the fuel on board included diesel, motor oil and other assorted oils. Officials have not determined what caused the sinking.
On Monday, the coast guard's Pacific Northwest division said a dive team was looking for the best way to secure vents on the vessel so that the tanks can be defueled.
Petty Officer Michael Clark told The Associated Press that a sheen had entered Canadian waters and there was concern for the southern resident killer whales last seen near the southern tip of San Juan Island but moving away toward Port Angeles.
By Monday afternoon, they were spotted west of Port Angeles, “well away from the spill,” the coast guard said.
A safety zone has been put in place around the response area and all vessels must remain at least 914 metres from any diving vessels, it said.
No whales have been identified in the affected area and personnel are on scene to prevent marine mammals from approaching.
There have been no reports of oiled wildlife and air quality levels remain below harmful thresholds, it said.
However, Ross warned that the threat is not over. If the whales return to the area, diesel fumes can be “extremely toxic” to them if inhaled. The risk depends on volume and wind levels at the time of exposure.
“That can present significant harm, if at the right concentration, and if there's no wind to disperse it,” he said.
Diesel can also enter the food chain, beginning on the biofilm on the ocean water's surface, if it's ingested by bacteria, phytoplankton and zooplankton.
Of urgent concern, too, is identifying exactly which types of oil and other fuels were on board the boat, he said. Given the threats facing the endangered whales, it's critical that divers identify the fuels, stop the leaks and even possibly work on recovering the vessel, he said.
“This is an environmental emergency,” he said.
Conservationists are also watching for effects on salmon, but they may depend on how officials handle the leak.
Misty MacDuffee, director of Raincoast's wild salmon program, said the leak is occurring as sockeye salmon and other migrating species are returning to the Fraser River.
The fish should be safe from fuel on the water's surface since they spend most time deeper down.
However, she warned against the use of dispersants to manage the oil because it involves breaking slicks into smaller droplets that can distribute toxins through the water column.
“Then it becomes deadly,” MacDuffee said.
Oil can also accumulate on shorelines with damaging effects, she said.
The Canadian Coast Guard said in an email it is ready to assist as required while several other U.S. agencies are also helping contain any oil, track the trajectory of the spill and monitor for affected wildlife.
Lt.-Cmdr. Brian Dykens said in a statement that government and industry partners are working to develop “an efficient and effective containment and recovery response.”
“The local public, the environment and protected marine species are our top priority,” he said.
- With files from The Associated Press
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 15, 2022.
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
Jaqueline McDermott, 22, from Kitchener has been reported missing in B.C., and her family is putting out a plea across the country for help. McDermott was last seen by her vehicle after attending a meditation retreat. RCMP said her vehicle was found, but she was not in it or near it.
Cases of COVID-19 are increasing across the country again as fall progresses and winter approaches. But this respiratory pathogen season is different than last year's, experts say, so the public's approach should be different as well.
Wood from primary forests in British Columbia has been used to fuel the U.K.'s largest power plant, according to a BBC investigation; the company denies the allegations.
The Toronto Blue Jays' first foe in the playoffs is now official.
Scientists have uncovered an association between tumours and fungi, which may lead to a deeper understanding towards the biology of certain cancers.
The Invasive Species Council of B.C. is asking the public to report sightings of a 'highly toxic' plant that can leave people's skin blistered and burned – something one family recently learned the hard way.
Public safety minister defends Canada's proposed firearms legislation, says it's needed to end gun violence
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino told a House of Commons committee Tuesday that Bill C-21, the proposed legislation to further restrict access to handguns in Canada, is critical to ending gun violence.
A California serial killer seems to be 'on a mission' throughout the fatal shooting of six men and the wounding of one woman dating back to last year.
Russian troops abandoned a key Ukrainian city so rapidly that they left the bodies of their comrades in the streets, offering more evidence Tuesday of Moscow's latest military defeat as it struggles to hang on to four regions of Ukraine that it illegally annexed last week.
'Danger to the public': Safety concerns surrounded man found dead in suite where Noelle O'Soup's body found
More information is coming to light about a man found dead in a rooming house in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside -- in the same suite where the bodies of missing teen Noelle O’Soup and another woman were found months later.
Forward Together, the party led by Vancouver mayoral incumbent Kennedy Stewart, released its election platform on Tuesday.
With urban mayors blaming a small number of repeat offenders for a disproportionate amount of crime in their cities, pressure is mounting on B.C.’s NDP government to act.
A woman in Edmonton has been accused of fraudulently posing as a medical doctor. Rossemarie Castro Rosales, 36, advertised massage therapy, holistic therapies and "quasi-medical techniques" under the name Dr. Marie Milne, police say.
A 25-year-old lifeguard has been charged following the 2020 drowning of a 34-year-old man at a Fort McMurray rec complex.
Two Edmonton Police Service officers were in provincial court Monday morning where one of them took the stand to describe the sexual assault she claims the other committed against her.
A man has died in hospital after a stabbing in Toronto’s Allan Gardens park Tuesday evening.
GTA home prices show signs of stabilizing, even as they post year-over-year decline for first time since correction began
The average price of a Toronto home was down by 4.25 per cent in September, marking the first year-over year decrease since the slide in property values began last winter.
A Canadian Tire employee in Hamilton says he was Tasered by police while suffering from an epileptic seizure earlier this week.
Calgary police are looking to the public for help to identify a woman who was found dead in the city over the summer.
A Calgary father has been sentenced to two years in prison for failing to provide the necessaries of life for his severely disabled adult son.
Two homes were damaged on Tuesday evening after a truck lost control in a southwest Calgary neighbourhood.
Excluding the CAQ, Quebec's major provincial parties received similar results between them in terms of popular support. But the same can't be said for the number of seats they won.
Francois Legault has been elected for a second mandate as Quebec premier with a majority government. Within eight minutes of the polls closing across the province at 8 p.m. EST, CTV News declared Coalition Avenir Québec has secured a resounding win in the Quebec legislature.
The Coalition Avenir Quebec, led by Francois Legault, won a second consecutive majority mandate in Monday's election. Here are five things to watch out for as the CAQ leader prepares to name his new cabinet and begins to make good on his party's election promises.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday that the federal government is setting up a $300-million 'Hurricane Fiona recovery fund' to help Atlantic Canadians rebuild from the deadly and destructive post-tropical storm.
The desire to quickly rebuild after post-tropical storm Fiona is running up against challenges that existed before the hurricane-force winds left a trail of destruction in Nova Scotia: the rising cost of construction material and widespread skilled labour shortages.
More than 15,000 Maritimers are still without power 11 days after post-tropical storm Fiona hit the region.
Provincial staff are dismantling an encampment on the Manitoba Legislature grounds after Winnipeg police brought some encampment members into custody.
A semi-truck driver from Ontario has been sentenced under the Highway Traffic Act for his role in a fatal collision three years ago on the Trans-Canada Highway near Falcon Lake in Whiteshell Provincial Park, that killed Mark and Jacob Lugli.
Police are searching for three suspects who they say kidnapped a senior and ran over another man while stealing a truck and camper on a Manitoba highway.
In early September, the University of Guelph told students about what they are calling a disruption to the IT system.
As the municipal election looms, candidate signs become a common sight, but with a tightened regional bylaw limiting where signs can be placed, there are far fewer.
Charges withdrawn against brothers accused of assaulting customer in family's Kitchener, Ont. restaurant
The charges against two brothers accused of assaulting a customer with a service dog at a Kitchener, Ont. restaurant have been withdrawn.
Lorna Standingready knows how it feels when a loved one goes missing. Her 14-year-old great-granddaughter disappeared last winter.
'I don't think there's going to be any trades': O'Day claims Riders have no trades ahead of deadline
The Canadian Football League (CFL) trade deadline on Wednesday, Oct. 5 is approaching fast. However, the Saskatchewan Roughriders claim to have plans to make any roster moves at the moment.
Saskatchewan residents may have noticed a peak in gas prices over the past week. Dan McTeague, president of Canada for Affordable Energy said that’s a common trend across the country right now.
The family of a man whose body was discovered dismembered and scattered in Oro-Medonte and Muskoka more than 12 years ago say it hopes to find closure with a recent arrest in the historic case.
York Regional Police are asking for the public's help in identifying whoever is responsible for multiple damage reports in the heart of Newmarket.
Police in Wasaga Beach are investigating an incident at a grocery store and asking the public for help.
Another person accused in the presumed death of a missing Saskatoon woman has a previous conviction for an impaired driving death.
Robert Schimpf, an expert from RCMP’s national forensic lab in Edmonton, took the stand in Ranbir Dhull’s trial on Tuesday.
A mine worker remains in hospital with serious injuries after a piece of tunnel roof fell on top of him while working underground at a potash mine southwest of Saskatoon.
In a startling development, incumbent Sudbury mayor Brian Bigger is withdrawing from the municipal election race, citing family reasons.
A 'Sisters in Spirit Vigil' was held at the Timmins Native Friendship Centre on Tuesday to honour the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, two spirit and gender-diverse people.
Literacy Nipissing in North Bay celebrated its official grand reopening, a major milestone after the learning centre burnt down in 2020.