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Ottawa wants to create new protected areas for killer whales off B.C. coast

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The federal government wants to create new ocean sanctuaries off the British Columbia coast as part of an additional $61.5 million it is spending to protect endangered killer whales.

Fisheries and Oceans Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said Wednesday the government wants to establish new areas of critical habitat off the west coast of Vancouver Island for southern resident killer whales.

The protected areas of Swiftsure Bank in the Juan de Fuca Strait between Vancouver Island and Washington state, and La Perouse Bank off Tofino, B.C., will be areas that the whales can call home, he said.

The whale known as T73B hung around the Comox Harbour for several days in August. (Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

“We are in the process of consulting on those new critical habitat areas and expect to be able to move forward on them in the next couple of months,” he said.

“We are also talking about creation of killer whale sanctuaries, which essentially are within the areas of critical habitat … which means that we can prohibit a range of different activities, not simply fisheries, where you can regulate that ships cannot go.”

The government previously announced $167.4 million would be spent to improve prey availability and reduce disturbances for whales.

A U.S. law enforcement patrol boat, right, is stopped near a recreational boat going past an orca whale in the Salish Sea in the San Juan Islands, where orca patrols ask vessels to give the sea mammals enough space. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)

Southern resident killer whales were listed as endangered in 2003 and only 74 of them remain in the wild.

Wilkinson said the government will take a closer look at enhancing food sources for whales by putting money into a new hatchery to increase the stock of chinook salmon.

While there have been calls for a ban on chinook salmon fishing, he said the government “hasn’t gone there yet.”

“We’ll certainly be looking at the needs of the southern resident killer whales and trying to ensure balancing economic issues with environmental issues,” he said.

Fisheries closed to help whales

Earlier this year, the federal government closed about 35 per cent of recreational and commercial chinook fisheries in the Juan de Fuca Strait and around portions of the Gulf Islands.

Misty MacDuffee, a conservation biologist at the Raincoast Conservation Foundation in B.C, said she was encouraged by the move to identify sanctuaries where the animals can be protected from fishing and whale watching.

She said the government has to increase the number of salmon in the sanctuaries and a hatchery “is not a promising way to do that.”

“The best way to increase the abundance of chinook is by closing fisheries.”

Orca J35, in the foreground, chasing salmon with her pod in August 2018. (Centre for Whale Research)

The Fisheries Department proposal to enhance the availability of chinook in the fall in the Fraser River will not help southern resident killer whales when they need the salmon in the early spring and the summer, MacDuffee said.

“The importance of those early-time chinook are key to southern resident killer whales,” she said. “What the feds are proposing to do is enhance chinook that are returning in the fall.”

In addition to food, Wilkinson said the government is looking at moving shipping lanes further away from areas preferred by killer whales, as well as long-term solutions such as quieter ships to reduce overall vessel noise.

“With the ferries, they are structured in such a way that reducing the speed doesn’t help as much with the noise.”

A conservation agreement is in the works with BC Ferries to ensure its vessels take a wide berth around the whales, he said.

Two years ago, Transport Minister Marc Garneau said the government was working with BC Ferries on possible approaches to help decrease noise and traffic.

Wilkinson said he hopes to have the bulk of the measures in place by May when the whales return to the area. But it will take some time to reduce noise and purchase ships that are quieter, he said.

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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