A female resident orca whale breaches while swimming in Puget Sound near Bainbridge Island as seen from a federally permitted research vessel Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014. (Elaine Thompson/THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP)

Ottawa invests $3M in endangered whale research

The federal government is investing $3 million to study populations of endangered whales off Canada’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts, officials announced Wednesday.

The joint initiative between the federal department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) will provide funding to Canadian universities for research into Southern Resident Killer Whales, North Atlantic Right Whales, and St. Lawrence Estuary Belugas and the challenges they face.

“In order to better protect these iconic species, we need to understand the threats they are facing and determine the best solutions possible,” outgoing Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Dominic LeBlanc said in a statement.

“Ultimately, this initiative will increase the body of scientific information that’s needed to support our government’s policy development, decision-making and conservation efforts related to endangered whale species in Canadian waters.”

Complex mix of threats

FILE – In this March 28, 2018, file photo, a North Atlantic right whale feeds on the surface of Cape Cod bay off the coast of Plymouth, Mass. (Michael Dwyer/AP Photo/File)

These majestic marine mammals face a complex mix of threats such as vessel collisions, entanglements in fishing gear, changes to availability of prey, increased noise levels, and pollution in the water.

“Extinction is a real prospect for these species. This funding comes at a critical time when scientists need the resources to develop innovative solutions and evaluate the effectiveness of them to save these whales,” said Robert Rangeley, Science Director, Oceana Canada. “Investment in the next generation of conservation scientists is critically important as recovery of these three whale species is decades away under the best of scenarios.”

The projects that will get research funds are expected to also focus on the effectiveness of measures to mitigate threats and on innovative whale assessment methodologies.

“This research will also give the next generation of researchers the opportunity to acquire new skills as they work hard to protect and preserve these important marine mammals,” Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan said.

The government hopes to encourage collaboration between universities and researchers by providing funding for large-scale, university-based whale research projects, officials said. NSERC is now accepting proposals via their website and interested participants must apply by August 10th.

The new funding is part of the larger $1.5-billion Oceans Protection Plan announced by the Liberal government in 2016 and the recently unveiled $167-million Whales Initiative that support the conservation and recovery of these endangered whale species.

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