Working together to reduce underwater noise effects on whales
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 killer whales’ ability to hunt, navigate and communicate.
In 2019, 82% of large commercial ships participated in the slowdown through Haro Strait and Boundary Pass and reduced underwater noise intensity by half. Research shows that reducing large commercial ship speeds is an effective way of reducing both the underwater noise generated at the ship source and total underwater noise in nearby habitats, which is in turn predicted to benefit the feeding success of the southern resident killer whales.
During the slowdown period, hydrophones (underwater microphones) placed on the sea floor measure the noise from passing ships. Listen to the difference between a ship at regular speed and at a reduced speed:
Before the slowdown
Courtesy of ECHO Program
During the slowdown
Courtesy of ECHO Program
About the 2020 voluntary ship slowdown in Haro Strait and Boundary Pass
Large commercial ships transiting through Haro Strait and Boundary Pass—key foraging areas for the southern resident killer whales—are asked to voluntarily slow down to the recommended speed for the ship type:
- 14.5 knots or less through the water for vehicle carriers, cruise ships and container vessels
- 11.5 knots or less through the water for bulkers, tankers, ferries and government vessels
The slowdown began on July 1, 2020, once southern resident killer whales were confirmed to be present in the area. The slowdown will continue until October 1; if whales remain in the area, the slowdown may be extended to no later than October 31.
Resources for participating ships:
- Fact sheet for 2020 voluntary slowdown in Haro Strait and Boundary Pass
- Full sized map of slowdown area
- ECHO Program update newsletter #1 – May 28, 2020
- ECHO Program update newsletter #2 – June 11, 2020
- ECHO Program update newsletter #3 – June 25, 2020
- ECHO Program update: voluntary slowdown now in effect – July 1, 2020
Success requires collaboration
The logistics of coordinating a voluntary ship slowdown outside of the port authority’s jurisdiction are complex and involve collaboration with many other advisors and partners. The port authority is very grateful for the ongoing participation and support of our many advisors and partners who contribute to the continued success of these voluntary initiatives.
In 2019, 82% of large commercial ships participated in the slowdown. We thank them for their ongoing participation.
This voluntary slowdown initiative is one of the commitments under the ECHO Program’s Species at Risk Act, Section 11 Conservation Agreement.
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. As of December 31, 2019, the population has declined to 73 individuals. Both countries’ governments continue to emphasize the need to develop and implement measures to reduce underwater noise generated by ships.
Learn more about how the slowdown efforts, and the efforts of others in the region, are collectively helping to reduce threats to the southern resident killer whales in a new infographic about reducing underwater noise.
- 2019 voluntary slowdown – Background
- 2018 voluntary slowdown – Final report
- 2018 voluntary slowdown – Summary of results
- 2018 voluntary slowdown – Background
- 2017 voluntary slowdown – Final report
- 2017 voluntary slowdown – Background
Questions or feedback
For more information on the slowdown, please contact the ECHO Program team at [email protected]ver.com or the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority Operations Centre which is available 24/7 at 604.665.9086. For updates on the slowdown and other ECHO Program initiatives, please subscribe to the ECHO Program newsletter.