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June 14, 2018

Port of Vancouver study offers new science that could protect at-risk whales

Results released Wednesday by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority-led Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program's Vessel Slowdown Trial show that when vessels slow down, underwater noise that may interfere with the ability of whales to feed is reduced.

The ECHO Program initiated the first-of-its-kind voluntary Vessel Slowdown Trial through Haro Strait last summer to study the relationship between slower ship speed, underwater noise levels, and effects on the endangered southern resident killer whales in one of their key feeding areas.

During the trial period, operators of cargo ships transiting a corridor of about 16 nautical miles were asked to navigate over listening stations (hydrophones) and reduce their speed to 11 knots, when it was feasible and safe to do so. More than 60 marine shipping industry organizations took part in the trial.

Results from the trial demonstrate that reducing vessel speeds is an effective way of reducing the underwater noise generated by the vessel and reducing total underwater noise in nearby habitats, which can in turn benefit the behaviour and feeding success of the southern resident killer whale. Whales use sound to locate prey and ship noise can interfere with their ability to do that.

Following the success of last year's trial, and coupled with the continued focus from the Government of Canada on efforts to aid in the recovery of the southern resident killer whale population, the port authority and its ECHO Program partners will support an industry-led voluntary slowdown initiative this summer in Haro Strait, which is being spearheaded by the Chamber of Shipping, Cruise Lines International Association North West & Canada and the Shipping Federation of Canada.

This initiative will test the level of industry participation when vessel slowdown speed is optimized based on vessel type, and when the slow down comes into effect when whales are present in the area.

Source: Vancouver Fraser Port Authority