Film Highlights Threat to Wildlife from Oil Supertankers
By Judith Lavoie
The Times Colonist,
April 12, 2011
A humpback whale in the Douglas Channel, which will be on the route of oil supertankers if a pipeline is approved.
An evocative animated video showing the silent, underwater world of whales and dolphins that live near the Great Bear Rainforest is about to become a weapon in the federal election campaign.
Copies of the video, created by Simon Game of Victoria-based Picture Cloud Animation for the wildlife conservation group Pacific Wild, will be given to federal candidates and leaders of all parties, to illustrate potential problems if the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline is approved.
"It will help people visualize what could happen," Game said.
The video has also been posted on YouTube and Pacific Wild will host a film tour along the pipeline route, from the Alberta oil sands to Kitimat.
Showings will also be held in coastal communities, said Ian McAllister, Pacific Wild spokesman.
The film, Cetaceans of the Great Bear Rainforest, focuses on the noise that would be created by oil supertankers taking bitumen from Kitimat to Asia.
"There are many reasons to oppose oil tankers on our coast, but few people consider acoustic pollution as being one of them," McAllister said. "One cannot simply turn down the volume of an oil tanker and we have fewer and fewer quiet refuges left on our coast."
Hermann Meuter of Cetacealab, who has spent a decade studying whale acoustics in northern B.C. waters, around Gil Island, Douglas Channel and Caamano Sound, is alarmed by the prospect of a procession of oil tankers. The film will help people think about the serious consequences for whales, he said.
"It would certainly destroy one of the last remaining silent underwater worlds," he said.
Whales depend on a quiet, underwater environment to hunt, communicate and navigate, Meuter said.
"What we use our eyes for, is what the whales use their ears for."
In addition to the threatened population of northern resident killer whales, humpbacks are returning to the area and there is an increasing population of fin whales — the second largest creatures on Earth.
The area, on the route that would be used by tankers, appears to have special significance for the songs of humpback whales, Meuter said.
"We think they practise their songs here before heading to Hawaii or Mexico where they present the final version," he said.
Supertankers create a noise underwater similar to a jet engine revving up beside a person and the number of whales would certainly decline, Meuter said.
"People living on this coast have to realize what is at stake. If anything happens here it will affect cetaceans of the whole coast and the million dollar whale-watching industry."
The $5.5-billion, 1,170-kilometre pipeline is under review by a federal panel made up of the National Energy Board and Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. A decision is expected by late 2012.
Enbridge has also been pushing the pipeline as an election issue. Patrick Daniel, the company's chief executive, has told business audiences that the pipeline is needed to diversify Canada's oil markets, so the country is not so reliant on the U.S. as a customer.
The Conservatives will not back a tanker ban in northern B.C. waters, but opposition parties have called for a ban.
Watch the video at pacificwild.org