Well over a month has now passed since the tragic oil spill in the Robson Bight (Michael Bigg) Ecological Reserve. On the official side, virtually nothing has happened, but on the NGO side, much progress has been made. Given the governmental inaction, the immediate NGO response, led by Living Oceans and Greenpeace, to raise the funds needed to conduct an underwater inspection of the spill site, was wise and appropriate. Thanks to many individuals and organizations, including the Born Free Foundation and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society in the UK, the money needed to proceed has been raised. The inspection is now being planned in detail, and is scheduled to take place at the end of October. Weather conditions will play a role in the exact timing, but if all goes well, by early in November, we should know the actual situation on the bottom of Robson Bight. That information will enable NGOs and governments alike to plan next steps, including possible salvage of the logging equipment and other debris.
Complaints about the official response to the disaster form a long list. At the top is the September 19th (a month after the incident) decision by Canada’s Transportation Safety Board not to launch a formal investigation. Instead, they will issue a “safety information letter”. For all the good this will do, the TSB may as well have said nothing. As Living Oceans’ Jennifer Lash put it, the decision is “appalling” and reflects a mystifying absence of official concern for what has happened, and the potential consequences of continued inaction. Given the extraordinary profile of the site of the spill – the world’s best known orca habitat – and the high regard the general public holds for orcas, one would have thought Canada’s federal government and the government of British Columbia would have been stumbling over one another in their haste to take the lead in dealing with the problem. Not so. Both levels of government appear content to wait. Meanwhile, oil continues to ooze to the surface in Robson Bight, and weather conditions worsen.
Orcas are still visiting Robson Bight, almost every day, and likely will be for some time to come. The A30s (the most diesel-exposed family) have been a constant presence in Johnstone Strait and adjacent waters ever since the spill happened on August 20th. Superficially at least, they seem fine. All 9 members are still alive and appear energetic. Samples of their breaths have been taken and are being analysed. We should know the results soon. The other impacted groups (A4s, A5s, A12s, I15s, I31s) left the area early in September, and have not been since. We hope that at least some of these families will return in October or November, so we will know if their members are alive or missing. Our concern for the health of the 58 orcas who suffered from prolonged exposure to toxic diesel fumes as a result of the oil spill in Robson Bight remains undiminished.
Thanks to Carl Chaplin for permission to use his “Robson bite” painting.