Photo: A victory for killer whales is a victory for all

(Credit: Emma Foster, via Center for Whale Research)

The threatened and endangered killer whales of Canada's West Coast need food and a safe place to live. It's obvious. That's why in February, the Federal Court of Appeal upheld a court decision that the government must meet the requirements of the Species at Risk Act and provide legal protection for the fundamental needs of killer whales.

That means ensuring that coastal waters are protected from pollution, that tankers and military vessels make less harmful noise, and that killer whales have chinook salmon to eat. The David Suzuki Foundation was one of the clients represented by Ecojustice that took the government to court and provided expertise on the whales and ways to help them recover.

For years, the federal government has resisted meeting the requirements of Canada's Species at Risk Act, spending time and money fighting in court instead of protecting the environment.This court victory means that Fisheries and Oceans Canada will now have to meet its obligations to limit marine noise and pollution in places important to killer whales. It will also be required to reduce fishing in some areas to make sure the whales have enough chinook salmon. This case also sets an important precedent for other endangered species whose critical habitat and food sources need protection.

But this case is about more than the health of endangered species. We all rely on clean air, water, and soil to survive and thrive. We are one species among many within a complex web of life. When we break that web by endangering or destroying any of the diverse species that compose it, we risk disrupting the systems we all depend upon for our basic needs.

The most important function of a government, and the laws that define it, is to protect the basic needs of its citizens. Our most basic needs, and those of killer whales, depend on a healthy environment. That's why taking care of endangered species is really the same thing as taking care of ourselves.