Working together to reduce underwater noise in endangered killer whale feeding areas by moving tug and barges further away
Since 2014, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority-led Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program has undertaken numerous collaborative research initiatives to better understand and manage the cumulative effects of shipping activities on whales in our region, in particular the southern resident killer whales.
Underwater noise from ships can interfere with whales’ ability to hunt, navigate and communicate, and moving ships further away from known whale feeding areas can affect the underwater noise levels in those areas. ECHO Program initiatives such as the lateral displacement trial and other research are helping to inform the development and implementation of measures that reduce the effects of marine traffic on this iconic species.
About southern resident killer whales
Southern resident killer whales are listed as endangered under both the Species at Risk Act in Canada and the Endangered Species Act in the U.S. Since last year, the population has declined to 75 individuals. Over the last year, both countries’ governments have continued to highlight the need to develop and implement measures to reduce underwater noise generated by ships.
In May 2019, the Government of Canada announced enhanced measures to build upon earlier initiatives to protect Southern Resident killer whales. One of these measures to address underwater noise and physical disturbance from ships is a lateral displacement trial in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
About the voluntary lateral displacement trial
In 2018, a voluntary trial was conducted to study how moving large commercial ships, and inshore traffic, such as tugs and barges, further away from known whale feeding areas in the Strait of Juan de Fuca would affect the underwater noise levels in those areas. This trial was led by Transport Canada and the ECHO Program, and was supported by U.S. Coast Guard, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Canadian and U.S. marine transportation industry, Indigenous individuals and environmental and conservation groups.
Last year, 88 per cent of tugs and barges participated in the 2018 lateral displacement trial by spending all or part of their transit in the trial zone, located farther away from the whales’ feeding areas in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This high rate of participation resulted in a significant reduction in underwater noise in the area.
Building on the learnings and success of the 2018 voluntary lateral displacement trial, and in an effort to support ongoing whale recovery measures for the Southern Resident killer whales, this year the ECHO Program is working closely with marine transportation industry partners to adapt and refine the approach to support a voluntary lateral displacement trial for inshore traffic only. This trial supports the ECHO Program’s objective to better understand and manage the cumulative effects of shipping activities on at-risk whales.
2019 voluntary inshore lateral displacement trial – Ended October 31, 2019
In 2019, where safe and operationally feasible to do so, all tugs and barges transiting in the Canadian inshore area of the Strait of Juan de Fuca were requested to move south of the known killer whale feeding area and navigate through the inshore lateral displacement trial zone while maintaining a buffer distance of 1000m from the traffic separation scheme (TSS).
- June 17 to October 31, 2019
- The inshore lateral displacement trial zone is 1500 meters wide and occurs in the area between 123° 52′ W and 124° 31′ W, covering a distance of approximately 28 nm.
- The trial zone is positioned 1,000 meters north of the TSS in order to provide a safety buffer.
- An Enhanced Management Area (EMA) has been identified by the Government of Canada along the northern side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca (Shown in green in the map below).
- During the trial, tugs and barges are requested to transit between the EMA and the buffer zone within the designated inshore lateral displacement zone.
- Participating in the trial is not expected to impact tug or barge transit time or fuel consumption rates.
- Download a full sized map here
Participation: Safety reminders
- All tug and barge operators are asked to transit within the lateral displacement trial zone while maintaining a 1,000 meter distance from the outbound shipping lane.
- Maintain sufficient closest point of approach with any other boat traffic.
- The trial is voluntary and does not relieve your boat of its safety obligations.
- Any directions from U.S. Vessel Traffic Service supersedes the voluntary trial.
Monitoring and reporting
- Similar to 2018, participation rates will be monitored using AIS data. A high rate of participation will help reduce underwater noise impacts from tugs and barges on at-risk whales.
- Underwater noise will be measured before, during and after the trial using three underwater microphones, known as hydrophones, operated by Fisheries and Oceans Canada in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
- Regular updates about the trial and participation levels will be provided via the participant newsletter. Please note, this is a technical update intended for participants of the ECHO Program’s underwater noise reduction initiatives. For general program updates, please subscribe to the ECHO Program newsletter.
- At the end of the trial, with support from project partners, the ECHO Program will conduct a full analysis to evaluate the effectiveness of the trial.
- 2019 inshore lateral displacement trial fact sheet
- Map of inshore lateral displacement trial area in the Strait of Juan de Fuca
- Protocols for participating – 2019 Inshore lateral displacement trial (cheat sheet)
Success requires collaboration
The logistics of coordinating a lateral displacement trial outside of the port authority’s jurisdiction are complex and involve collaboration with many others including federal agencies, tug and tow boat operators and others. The ECHO Program team is very grateful for the ongoing participation and support of our many partners who contribute to the continued success of these kinds of voluntary initiatives.
Here are a few links and additional resources where you can learn more about what is being done to help at-risk whales in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
- ECHO Program
- Government of Canada – Oceans Protection Plan
- Transport Canada: Whales Initiative
- Government of Canada: Interim order to protect whales from vessel disturbance
- Fisheries and Oceans Canada 2019 measures to protect Southern Resident killer whales
Some of our partners have resources available online:
- Have you spotted a whale? Report your cetacean (whale, dolphin, and porpoise) and sea turtle sightings to the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network through their WhaleReport app, on their website or by email.
- The Whale Trail organization has established a network of land-based viewing sites on the west coast of Canada and US. See the Whale Trail maps here
Questions or feedback
For more information on the slowdown please contact the ECHO Program team at [email protected] or Vancouver Fraser Port Authority Operations Centre which is available 24/7 at 604.665.9086. For general program updates, please subscribe to the ECHO Program newsletter or visit the main ECHO Program webpage for more information.