The plight of the endangered southern resident killer whale population has captured the world’s attention this summer with the incredible effort to save an emaciated whale known as Scarlet, and the heart-wrenching images of a grieving mother carrying her dead calf for more than two weeks.

Now the 75 resident orcas have landed in the middle of the national Trans Mountain pipeline battle.

“The National Energy Board did not consider the impacts to the whales which would be a violation of the Species at Risk Act,” said Chris Genovali, Executive Director of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

The Federal Court of Appeal has ruled the energy board and federal cabinet both failed to to assess the impacts of increased tanker traffic on the marine environment and particularly the endangered residents.

“It would put these whales in even greater jeopardy in terms of pushing them towards extinction,” said Genovali.

He says it isn’t just because of the increased potential of ship strikes but the increase in noise.

“It hampers their ability to efficiently forage, find Chinook salmon and consume that salmon which they need to survive and to thrive,” Genovali said.

While environmentalists and Indigenous groups are celebrating the ruling, one political scientist says this is by no means the end of the Trans Mountain battle.

“Their victory is not yet secure I don’t think, there is an enormous amount of pressure on this government from the prairie provinces, from the business sector, from the Conservative opposition to be seen to be doing something to make sure this thing goes through,” said UVic Political Scientist Jamie Lawson.

Federal officials are maintaining the pipeline is in the national interest.

“We do know it has to be done in the right way which means we will analyze this decision, it’s a 275-page decision, and we will respond promptly,” said Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

Two options include challenging Thursday’s decision in the Supreme Court of Appeal or attempting to satisfy the court’s demands, which would include redoing the consultation process with Indigenous people and assessing the marine impacts.

It’s unclear how long either option would take, some, like those fighting for the endangered resident killer whales, hope the government will abandon the expansion altogether.

 

April Lawrence