When It Comes to Ships, Does Size Matter?

When it comes to ships, does size play a part in the damage they can do to whales?

Canada is home to 33 species of cetaceans. These marine mammals spend their whole lives in the water. Unfortunately, they can have some fairly terrible encounters with other objects in the ocean, like ships. When ships strike whales, it can end in disaster. They will likely either die or be injured.

Many people report seeing a whale swimming normally after a ship strike, however, their injuries might be extensive enough that they could die soon afterwards. Necropsies performed on whales killed by ship strikes have found that strikes may damage the blood vessels surrounding a whale’s dorsal fin. Some ship strikes might even fracture bones, while most will cause severe hemorrhaging to the blubber and tissue of the whale’s body.

humpback whale in antarctica with ship

But what about the size of the ship? Are bigger ships more dangerous to whales? That’s just what researchers at the Canadian Wildlife Federation are itching to discover.

It’s well known that large ships like cruise and cargo ships, can kill whales. We know that their between their massive size and the fast speeds they can reach, these mighty vessels can have a brutal impact on whales should they strike them. The most severe injuries that whales experience are caused by these large vessels. As a result, there are speed restrictions for many of these ships to try to mitigate the damage they can do on our whales.

So, Does Size Matter?

sailboat and whale tale

But what about smaller ships like fishing boats? According to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, in 2016 alone, there were over 15,000 fishing boats (smaller than 20 metres in length) registered in Atlantic Canada. Moreover, fishing boats have also been reported to strike whales. While these boats are not usually going incredibly fast (they usually travel under 10 knots), setting a speed restriction for these fishing boats may help to reduce the risk of injury and death in our whales.

The Canadian Wildlife Federation’s Senior Conservation Researcher of Marine Programs, Sean Brillant, is studying the impacts these small vessels could pose on our whales. This summer, Brillant and his team of researchers are looking into high speed oceanic racing boats to determine if these vessels could critically injure whales should a collision occur.

Learn more about Canadian Wildlife Federation’s work in our Coasts & Oceans

Ladies, the Heat is On!

Animals That Go Through Menopause

You’ve got the air-conditioning cranked. You’ve invested in a white noise machine to help you get a little sleep. And your patience is wearing thin in a whole new way these days. There’s nothing fun about going through menopause, but ladies, did you know we’re not the only ones in the animal kingdom that suffer through it?

To be frank, we’re an oddity. Most animals keep on popping out babies until they reach old age. However, many toothed whales work a lot more like humans do where they reproduce for a number of years and then, when those years come to an end, they’ll keep right on trucking.

Let’s take a look at some animals in the wild that go through menopause:

1. Short-finned Pilot Whales

Pilot whale mom and calf | Photo @ Clair EversThese whales can live up to 60 years. That is, if they’re female. Males usually die around the age of 45. Female Short-finned Pilot Whales reach sexual maturity when they turn about 10 years old. Once they reach that age they’ll begin to have their calves every five to eight years until they reach menopause.

2. Belugas

Beluga pod | Photo: Shafik Diwan, CWF Photo Club

Belugas are long-lived creatures. They can live up to 75 years in the wild. That’s a lot of birthday candles to blow out! Females reach sexual maturity between eight and 14 years of age. Once they do, they will go on to have calves (one at a time) about every three years, until they reach menopause.

3. Narwhals

Narwhals

Female Narwhals reach sexual maturity between eight and 12 years of age. After which, they’ll have one calf at a time. They usually give birth to a new calf every three years, although it may even be longer. Eventually, their reproductive years end and they move into menopause, living up to 50 years (although most live less than 30 years).

4. Killer Whales

killer whales | Photo: Kari Watkins, CWF Photo Club

Killer Whales don’t live quite as long as these other whale species. Males will live on average 30 years, while females can expect to live until about 50 years of age. These social marine mammals don’t give birth to their first calf until they are about 15 years old. Once their reproductive years are through, they will take care of their young’s calves. Talk about a tight knit family!

What’s the Point?

So what’s the point of going through menopause and living on into our golden years? To be honest, it’s a bit of a mystery. Some researchers argue that we can thank the grandmother hypothesis. This idea suggests that older females will opt to support their grandbabies instead of going on to bear more of their own children or young.

While this idea works for social creatures like the Killer Whale, not all whale species are as social. And also…wouldn’t species like elephants evolve to have menopause? They’re awfully social and take care of their grandchildren and yet there are no signs that they go through menopause.

There doesn’t seem to be a clear cut answer as to why menopause exists in animals yet. What do you think?

CWF Testifies to Government Recommending Three Amendments to Fisheries Act

This week, CWF’s CEO Rick Bates testified to the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans for better protection for fish habitat.

He recommended three related amendments that build on existing provisions in Bill C-68. Here they are:

Rick Bates, Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Wildlife Federation speaking to the Standing Committee about the Fisheries Act

Good evening, senators, staff and guests. Our organization, the Canadian Wildlife Federation, is known and respected for providing a balanced voice on environment and wildlife conservation issues.

Minister Wilkinson indicated that the government is open to amendments, particularly where they provide improved certainty for proponents and better protection for fish habitat.

We are recommending three closely related amendments that build on existing provisions in the bill. They strengthen certainty for industry and improve fish habitat across Canada. Our amendments focus specifically on the mechanisms within the Fisheries Act for offsetting harm to fish habitat. These three amendments are:

First, we propose expanding the ability to create habitat banks to more than just project proponents; in other words, allow any organization to create a habitat bank and then sell the credits to the project proponent.

Second, complement this by allowing the payment of a fee in lieu of doing an offset for certain projects and dedicate all revenues collected to aquatic habitat restoration. The Environmental Damages Fund already exists and could be used for this purpose.

Third, clarify in law that fish habitat destruction authorized under the Fisheries Act can be offset by the proponent creating the offset themselves, buying the offset from a habitat bank, making a payment in lieu or a combination of these three.

I want to clarify that Bill C-68 includes new provisions for habitat banking. However, as currently written, the bill limits the opportunity to create a habitat bank exclusively to project proponents. In other words, if you plan to build a road over a series of rivers, only you as the developer can create new habitat as a bank to offset the habitat you may destroy in the future. DFO will then award you credits for that restored habitat, which you hold in your bank until you can use those credits to offset any damage from the roads you build.

The main problems with this are that it requires the developer to invest a lot of money up front to create the bank of habitat credits. But these developers are not in the business of habitat banking, so they are unlikely to want to tie up capital in habitat restoration. This means that the actual creation of habitat banks will be very limited.

Offsets must last a very long time, essentially in perpetuity. This means that the developer will need to monitor and maintain that offset over its lifespan, which diverts their focus from their core business.

These ideas are not new. Habitat banking has existed in the U.S.A. since the 1980s, in Germany since 2002 and in Australia since 2008. Our proposed changes will have many positive impacts, including, for proponents, they increase certainty for projects, as developers could purchase an offset credit that has already been approved by DFO or pay a fee. This eliminates questions of whether their offset will meet DFO’s requirements. Plus, they gain the certainty of knowing their costs up front.

This will also get faster project approval because developers won’t need to spend time and money to design, develop and wait for approval from DFO. They simply buy an offset.

For local economies, establishment of a new sector, habitat banking companies. These could be operated by private companies, Indigenous people or non-government organizations. It will also help limit the growing bill that taxpayers will eventually have to pay to restore aquatic habitat.

For our lakes, rivers and coasts, habitat banking can pool offsets from multiple projects to allow for larger-scale habitat restoration and greater gains for fish production. Fees paid in lieu of doing an offset would be earmarked specifically for habitat restoration.

We see the many benefits of these amendments as easy to capture, as we believe the administrative impact on DFO is very manageable. The concept of habitat banking is already in the bill, so implementing third party habitat banking would be incremental to work DFO already needs to carry out.

DFO already has to monitor offsets created under the act and to enforce authorization conditions. It may actually take fewer DFO staff to monitor a few larger habitat banking projects than to monitor many individual offsets.

In closing, I’d like to thank you for your work here today and for your work on this important bill.

What Did You Do This Summer? Well, Here’s Some of What We Did…

As the largest supporter-based conservation charity in Canada, we thought we’d report back to you on some of what we’ve accomplished during the 2018 summer conservation field work season. There were both successes and failures, but all of the work we do helps further our understanding of these species in order to best conserve Canada’s wildlife.

Helping the American Eel

The Canadian Wildlife Federation’s Aquatic Science Team conducted research on the American Eel in the Ottawa River this summer. Eels face many challenges, and their populations have declined dramatically in recent years. Our summer research included:

  • Determining downstream migratory routes the eels take while passing the Chaudière Falls Generating Station by placing 40 acoustic receivers in the water upstream and downstream of the falls. This helped target large eels that are ready to make their downstream journey back to their breeding grounds in the Sargasso Sea.
  • Counting their numbers to determine how many of these at-risk species there are in the area. We did this two ways:
    • Trap netting, where we caught over 3,600 fish and identified 22 different species (sadly, we only found one eel).
    • Night time boat electrofishing which temporarily stuns the fish. It may sound extreme but they were not hurt and it really is critical that we learn how many eel remain as this species is dwindling quickly. This research provided more insight into how we can protect — and ideally restore — the population back to its original numbers.

Learn more about river barriers and how they affect our aquatic species.

Love Your Lake

This summer was busy with Love Your Lake shoreline health assessments. The 2018 summer season brought the program total to 157 lakes and approximately 37,830 shoreline properties! Thanks to our seven regional partners spread across three provinces, the Canadian Wildlife Federation and national partner Watersheds Canada were able to:

  • Be active on 18 lakes in Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
  • Assess the shoreline health of approximately 3,570 waterfront properties.

In early 2019, the shoreline property owners on these lakes will receive a personalized shoreline property report with details on the state of their shoreline and recommended actions for improving the health of their shoreline.

For more information on the joint CWF and Watersheds Canada Love Your Lake program, please visit LoveYourLake.ca

Helping the Bats

The Canadian Wildlife Federation’s bat team worked hard this spring and summer to promote bat conservation. The goal of this program is to ensure the long-term survival of Canada’s at-risk bats. A large portion of our season focused on bats that inhabit anthropogenic structures, like barns or attics.

CWF had the pleasure of teaming up with some wonderful students from the University of Ottawa and Carleton University to promote bat conservation. Our summer research included:

  • Developing and disseminating Best Management Practices and Standard Operating Procedures.
  • Identifing maternity roosts that contain Endangered Little Brown Myotis so we can understand what habitats might need protecting.
  • Collecting biophysical data of the roosts in order to advise on preferred habitat creation and recovery strategy.
  • Testing the effectiveness of different bat house designs to determine the best designs for different species and different areas such as urban versus rural.
  • Promoting bat observations via citizen science, and outreach to our communities across the country.

By getting the word out there and learning the best ways to help these at-risk species, we’re hoping to reduce the amount of times their habitats are destroyed, and of course, reduce the impact habitat destruction has on these mammals. We continue to work to support Through effective messaging, outreach, and management strategies, we hope to reduce the frequency and impacts of habitat destruction and support the health, recovery, and survival of at-risk bats.

Learn more about Canada’s bats at HelptheBats.ca

Helping the Turtles

The Canadian Wildlife Federation turtle team was very busy this year! Our field work season included:

  • Conducting surveys for the endangered Blanding’s Turtle. Our goal was to find new locations which included this declining species in order to increase the amount of protected habitat. In so doing, we received permission from many land owners to surveys wetlands on their property and found Blanding’s Turtles in 10 different private and government-owned wetlands.
  • Surveying roads to find frequent turtle road-kill locations. Identifying these locations can help us push for road mitigation — such as wildlife fencing — in these sections of road. This would protect turtles and other wildlife. This year we found over 500 dead turtles on the roads around the Ottawa area, including over 60 dead Blanding’s Turtles.
  • Collecting turtle eggs that were laid in at risk locations, such as roadsides. By collecting and incubating the eggs and releasing the hatchlings back at the nearest wetland, we helped to compensate for the number of turtles killed on roads. The eggs were successfully incubated and we released almost 400 Blanding’s and Snapping Turtle hatchlings!

Learn more about our turtle work at HelptheTurtles.ca

Helping the Birds

This year, the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife Biologist Nathan Clements spent 10 days traversing the Queen Maud Gulf region of Nunavut. His work included:

  • Banding of Greater White-fronted Geese and Cackling Geese in order to monitor Arctic and sub-Arctic geese and their migrations throughout the continent. More than 2,500 geese were banded, which is slightly above the banding program targets set by the Arctic Goose Joint Venture.

The lead organization, the Arctic Goose Joint Venture (AGJV), works cooperatively with partners to provide a coordinated and cost-effective approach to meeting high priority information needs for the management of northern-nesting geese. The Canadian Wildlife Federation is a supporting partner of the AGJV, along with the Canadian Wildlife Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, state and provincial wildlife agencies of all four flyways, and other non-government organizations. This partnership approach is especially valuable for conducting Arctic research where logistics are more costly and where maximum return from available funds is highly desirable.

Helping the Salmon

The Canadian Wildlife Federation, along with Carleton University, Carcross/Tagish First Nation, and the Yukon Energy Corporation, is studying the migration of Chinook Salmon in the furthest reaches of their run near Whitehorse. These fish have travelled nearly 3,000 kilometres from the Bering Sea. They face many challenges during their spawning migration. Compared to historic records, populations have been depleted for decades and we are undertaking research to find out why and what we can do to help. Chinook are the king of the Pacific Salmon, and this is a very special population of the species. We take care to minimize the effects of our research on the individuals that we encounter, and are honoured to work with the local community towards their conservation.

For the past two summer seasons, we have been:

  • Implanting fish with acoustic transmitters
  • Tracking their movements as they approach the Whitehorse Hydro Plant, pass the world’s longest fish ladder, and continue to their spawning grounds.
  • Tagging as many fish as we can. Thus far we have tagged 138 fish. We will know how they fared by mid-September once their spawning run is complete and we retrieve data from our acoustic telemetry array.

Read more about this work.

Helping the Pollinators

To investigate the role of natural habitats on wild pollinators, the Canadian Wildlife Federation initiated a three year study in Norfolk County, Ontario. The goal of the project is to examine the relationship between the diversity and abundance of insect pollinators and three habitat types: forest, hedgerow, and grassy field margins.

Conserving a diversity of beneficial insects, like bees and hoverflies, in intensively cropped systems is important for providing ecosystem services to farmers such as pollination. We believe that natural habitats such as forests and hedgerows likely play a significant conservation role within intensively managed agricultural landscapes.

Summer 2018 was our first field season, where we were:

  • Collected pollinating insects using specialized traps on 11 farms in Norfolk County, southern Ontario. Each trap collected thousands of insects that then had to be sorted and identified by hand.
  • Compared the results of hand identified insect samples to results using DNA barcoding. If DNA barcoding gives us similar results to hand identification we will have a fast and efficient way to determine abundance and diversity of pollinators in different types of habitats on agricultural lands. The hope is that we can provide advice to farmers on what types of natural habitats will be good for farming and good for wildlife.

Results of the research will be shared with farmers and governments to inspire sustainable agricultural practices, policies and programs.

Helping Whales

Using our knowledge of whale biology and basic principles of collision impacts, we are developing a computer model to predict whether the forces on a whale during a collision with a ship could cause serious harm. The computer model will take into account specific features of Right Whales (e.g. blubber thickness) and of small vessels (e.g. ship weight). This new collision impact prediction tool will provide industry and regulators with the ability to explore how the risk of harm to right whales from small vessel strikes changes depending on the size, speed, and design of the vessel.

Ultimately this work will lead to recommendations on how the risk may be avoided. This requires good science, backed up with real numbers. We will have the opportunity to expand this work in more detail as we better establish the important factors to consider during collisions, and to suggest how the risk may be reduced.

Learn more about marine animal response in Canada at the Canadian Marine Animal Response Alliance website.

We Have So Much More to Do

With the financial support from our dedicated donors, the Canadian Wildlife Federation has been able to make leaps and strides in wildlife conservation in Canada. But with increasing habitat loss and a climate that is quickly changing, Canada’s wildlife needs your support more than ever.

Thank you for caring about Canada’s wildlife and please consider supporting the work we do.