Port authority-led ECHO Program launches seasonal measures to protect endangered southern resident killer whales

June 1, 2024

Today, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority-led Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program launched its eighth season of large-scale threat reduction measures to support the recovery of at-risk whales like the endangered southern resident killer whales.   

To reduce threats to whales such as underwater noise and ship strikes, more than 60 marine transportation organizations have confirmed their intention to participate in the ECHO Program’s measures, which ask ship operators to slow down or stay distanced within key areas of importance to southern resident killer whales.

Last year, the ECHO Program’s voluntary measures reduced underwater noise by about 50% in key areas. Additionally, a recent study shows that the program’s slowdowns can also reduce the risk of ship strikes by up to nearly a third (27%) and air emissions within the slowdown areas by up to a quarter.   

In total, the program’s voluntary measures span across nearly 80 nautical miles of both Canadian and U.S. waters and cover nearly 50% of all southern resident killer whale critical habitat that overlaps with international shipping lines, in key areas such as Swiftsure Bank, Haro Strait, Boundary Pass, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Last year, thanks to the support of the program’s participants and advisors, the ECHO Program saw all-time-high participation rates in its voluntary measures, with operators on 87% of all large commercial ship transits voluntarily reducing their speed or moving away from key areas of southern resident killer whale critical habitat.

Launched by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority in 2014, the ECHO Program is one of the ways the port authority is working to enable Canada’s trade through the Port of Vancouver while protecting the environment. Since 2017, the ECHO Program has implemented large-scale threat reduction measures to reduce the effects of commercial shipping on at-risk whales, in close collaboration with partners and advisors across the region.

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