VANCOUVER — Ottawa no longer considers the North Pacific population of humpback whales a threatened species, which lifts many legal protections for the whales’ habitat.
In an amendment released Saturday in the latest Canada Gazette, the Environment Department says the status of humpback whales off the British Columbia coast has been upgraded from “threatened” to “species of special concern.”
The revision follows a 2011 report from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada which determined the whale’s numbers have increased annually since the early 1990s, and now include more than 18,000 adults.
Reclassification under the Species At Risk Act removes legal protection for humpback habitat, which includes Johnstone Strait off the northeast end of Vancouver Island, a region that would also see increased oil tanker traffic if the Northern Gateway Pipeline project is approved.
The whale is central to a lawsuit brought by B.C. environmental groups trying to force Ottawa to abide by its own Species At Risk legislation.
The United States is also considering upgrading the status of Pacific humpback populations after the whales were hunted to near extinction in the early part of the 20th century.