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Study shows slower ship speeds reduces underwater noise, helping whales hunt

Last Updated Jun 14, 2018 at 1:48 pm PDT

(Port of Vancouver Photo)

Study shows lowering ship speed reduced under water noise

Less noise underwater can help the endangered southern resident killer whales hunt

SWARTZ BAY (NEWS 1130) – The results of the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority‘s ECHO program have sparked an even bigger initiative to lower underwater ship noise in a major whale feeding area.

For two months last summer the authority asked ships travelling through the Haro Strait, where the endangered southern resident killer whale feed every year, to slow down to 11 knots. Whales use sound to locate prey and excess noise from ships could interfere with their hunting.

Researchers monitored the difference the speeds made in underwater noise pollution.

“Our results showed that with 60 per cent of the vessels [travelling through the strait] that in fact both the vessels themselves as well as the underwater noise in that feeding area were reduced for that slow down period,” says the group’s Orla Robinson. “So, a very successful outcome for a large scale research project.”

With encouraging results, they’re going to refine the program and again encourage ships travelling there this summer to slow down.

“We’ve been working actively with that same community since last year through the ECHO program. It’s a collaborative program and working with the shipping industry and others–conservation community, First Nations, and government–we’re planning to introduce another voluntary measure this summer where vessels will again slow down in Haro strait, hopefully when the whales are there.”

She says they’re looking to optimize speeds for different vessel types. Robinson is hoping for a higher participation rate.

“We as a port offer incentives for quieter vessels. So, we can offer reduction in harbour dues for vessels have quieter technologies or certifications on board,” she says, adding the speed reduction is completely voluntary.

“We had over 60 organizations participate last year, that’s pretty much all of the regular collars to our port. So, we have very good uptake.”

Robinson says she’s very happy with the results, and a definitive answer as to whether or not reducing underwater noise would help whales find their food.

“We absolutely acknowledge the [southern resident killer whale] needs all of our support in the recovery of that species,” she says.

Robinson says trade and shipping is critical to everyone’s day to day lives, but it’s also important to protect the environment.