Vessel speed study could benefit whales

21 Jul 2017
killer whales

Hydrophones used during the study will monitor ambient and vessel underwater noise to establish how it is affecting killer whales in the Haro Strait

Over 50 shipping organisations will participate in a pioneering study in the Haro Strait to understand the benefits of slower vessel speeds and reduced underwater noise for resident killer whales.

Between 7 August and 6 October, participating vessels transiting the water between Vancouver Island’s Saanich Peninsula and San Juan Island will be asked to navigate over underwater listening stations, also known as hydrophones, at a speed of 11 knots when feasible, a slower than typical operating speed for deep-sea vessels.

Robin Silvester, president and chief executive officer of the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, said: “We know that impacts to vessel schedules can be costly to the shipping industry, but we also know the more vessels that participate in the trial, the more robust the scientific analysis will be, and the greater the opportunity for trial data to support evidence-based decision making about future vessel noise management measures.”

The hydrophones will monitor ambient and vessel underwater noise, as well as the presence of whales, and automated vessel tracking will be used to monitor vessel speed.

Existing scientific evidence indicates that underwater noise from vessels can interfere with killer whale echolocation clicks, calls and whistles, inhibiting the ability to hunt, navigate and communicate. Existing research also suggests that vessels operating at lower speeds typically generate less underwater noise.

The study, which Washington State Ferries will also take part in, is a collaboration, planned and coordinated through the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority-led ‘Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program’.

It is estimated that approximately 900 deep sea vessels will pass through the Haro Strait during the test period.

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