Whale protest confrontation

Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna was confronted with the passions many in B.C. have for the plight of the West Coast's endangered killer whales while she cycled on a Victoria-area bike path Wednesday.

The minister said she was cycling to a news conference along Victoria's Galloping Goose Trail when she met a group of protesters calling on the government to do more to save the southern resident killer whales.

"Everyone knows the numbers here as I've seen and in B.C. (everybody) cares greatly about them," said McKenna in an interview. "It's challenging for sure. That's why we're making the investments through our Oceans Protections Plan, but also very specifically targeting the killer whales."

McKenna stopped for several minutes to speak with the protesters before getting back on her bike.

"We're absolutely committed," she said. "It's a challenging issue for sure."

The federal government introduced killer whale protection measures in the summer that included reducing noise levels from vessels, accelerating studies of the impacts of pollution on whale populations and restricting chinook salmon fishing, the preferred food of the southern residents.

Whale viewing distance limits were also increased to 200 metres to keep whale watch vessels and other boats away from the endangered whales.

It's estimated 74 southern residents remain on the West Coast.

The deaths of two southern resident killer whales this year focused worldwide attention on the orcas.

A female killer whale whose calf died shortly after birth pushed the body of the dead calf with her for more than two weeks. An intervention effort by both Canadian and American officials to save a second juvenile-aged female failed when the emaciated animal disappeared and was declared dead by experts.

"We're taking the measures we need to take, making the investments we need to do." McKenna said.

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