The ECHO Program

Helping to protect everyone’s favourite locals.

There are 76 endangered southern resident killer whales living in local waters. If you’re lucky, you may have seen some of them. At the Port of Vancouver, we’re doing what we can to help protect these beautiful whales.


Orca swimming off Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia, Canada

The ECHO Program is helping.

Whales and ships share the same water. The ECHO Program, (the Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation Program), is a Port of Vancouver-led initiative aimed at better understanding and managing the impact of shipping activities on whales along the southern coast of B.C.. It’s just one of the port’s many environmental programs.

The program is a collaboration between industry, marine advocates and scientists. Click to view all the participants and supporters of ECHO.

Underwater noise and whales.

Whales use sound to communicate, navigate and hunt, but underwater noise from recreational and commercial vessels can disrupt those activities. Vessel noise, particularly at high frequencies, can make it difficult for whales to hear and echolocate – the process of using sound to bounce off objects such as prey to identify where they are.


Listen to the sound of the seas.


Hear southern resident killer whales.

Courtesy of Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard, Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre.

Now listen to whale calls being masked by the sound of a large ship passing by a pod.

Courtesy of OrcaLab.

Vessel slowdown trial.

This ECHO Program initiative took place between August 7 and October 6, 2017. We worked with marine industry partners to ask ships to slow down to 11 knots in the Haro Strait (a key summer feeding area for whales).

In general, most underwater noise from large ships comes from the propeller; the faster it goes, the more noise it creates. We wanted to measure the level of noise reduction that occurs when ships reduce their speed.


Listening, learning.

Underwater listening devices were placed on the ocean floor so the ECHO Program team and partners could monitor ambient and underwater ship noise, as well as the presence of whales. Data collected will be analyzed to help develop future vessel noise reduction measures.


A little can go a long way.

Just a 3 knot decrease in speed can result in a 50% reduction in sound intensity for some vessels.

“Industry’s commitment to this voluntary research trial is a clear demonstration of the collective focus we have on ensuring a healthy marine environment, and we greatly appreciate our partners’ support.” – Robin Silvester, president and chief executive officer of the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority.

Over fifty organizations took part in the voluntary slowdown trial, a first of its kind in the world. Those participants represent a very significant proportion of large commercial ship movements through Haro Strait.

Click to see all the participants.

What next?

Results from the summer slowdown trial, and other ECHO Program initiatives, will inform future solutions for protecting the beautiful whales in our region.

These might involve adding further vessel quietening incentives, working with partners to make voluntary changes to shipping operations, and undertaking additional research to bridge knowledge gaps.


The ECHO Program research continues.

The vessel slowdown trial is just one facet of the ECHO Program’s research. We’re also focusing on how to protect whales from the risk of being hit by ships, and monitoring ocean pollution in killer whale habitat.


Keeping ships at a safe distance.

We’re also supporting research on humpback and fin whales.

Since 2016, the ECHO Program has supported Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s survey of large whale distribution using aerial surveillance and satellite tagging. The data will help map which waters the whales frequent the most, helping to assess the risk of whales being hit by ships.

Tracking pollution.

“British Columbia is not immune to significant pollution threats; our killer whales are now recognized as the most PCB-contaminated marine mammals in the world,” – Dr. Peter Ross, director of Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Pollution Research Institute.

The ECHO Program is providing funding to help the Vancouver Aquarium’s Coastal Ocean Research Institute track and understand pollution in BC’s coastal waters. PollutionTracker will give a detailed picture of the health of local oceans and identify emerging pollution issues that could be a threat to killer whales and their food sources. The information will inform best practices to help in the reduction of pollutants. We all want to keep the seas as clean as possible for the whales!


Learn more about the ECHO Program