2023 ECHO Program annual report highlights record-breaking year of research and collaborative actions to protect at-risk whales

April 17, 2024

Today, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority published the 2023 annual report for the Enhancing Cetacean and Habitat Observation (ECHO) Program. Launched by the port authority in 2014, the ECHO Program is a world-leading, regional collaborative initiative with the aim to better understand and reduce the cumulative effects of commercial shipping on at-risk whales off British Columbia’s southern coast.  

2023 was the ECHO Program’s seventh year of coordinating voluntary threat reduction measures for at-risk whales. The year was marked by numerous achievements for the program, both at home and on the world stage, such as:

  • Encouraging ship operators on a record-breaking 87% of ship transits to voluntarily slow down or stay distanced while traveling through three key areas of southern resident killer whale critical habitat  
  • Reducing underwater noise from ships––one of the key threats to southern resident killer whales identified by Fisheries and Oceans Canada––by about half 
  • Quantifying the co-benefits of slowing down through a study that showed the program’s slowdowns result in up to a 30% reduction in whale strike risk and a 25% reduction in localized air emissions 
  • Coordinating the program’s longest-running season of threat reduction measures––lasting a record-breaking six months and covering approximately about half of all southern resident killer whale critical habitat that overlaps with international shipping lanes   
  • Shaping the International Maritime Organization’s new underwater noise reduction guidelines, outlining global best practices for the reduction of underwater noise by ship manufacturers, owners, and operators 
  • Completing a three-year effort to create the world’s first set of international guidelines for the alignment of quiet ship notations, in collaboration with international shipping classification societies and experts  
  • Convening a task force of stakeholders and experts from across Canada, the U.S., and the U.K. to explore the development of regional underwater noise targets for the shipping sector 

The port authority thanks the ECHO Program’s many partners and advisors from across government, the marine transportation industry, Indigenous communities, and environmental groups in Canada and the U.S. With their ongoing support—and the voluntary participation of more than 100 marine transportation organizations–the ECHO Program is continuing to help create quieter and safer oceans for at-risk whales.

Later this year, the ECHO Program aims to work with partners to extend the Section 11 Species at Risk Act Conservation Agreement to Protect the Southern Resident Killer Whale for another five-year term with the Government of Canada and key industry partners. The program will continue to focus on leading threat reduction efforts, research projects, and educational outreach to support the recovery of at-risk whales in the region. 

To learn more about the ECHO Program, visit our website: