Vessel Slowdown Trial in Haro Strait

The vessel slowdown trial in Haro Strait ran between August 7 and October 6, 2017 and has now concluded.

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Studying the relationship of speed and underwater noise to reduce impacts on whales

The population of endangered southern resident killer whales is just 78 individuals (April 2017) and the species has shown little sign of recovery since the 1980s. Acoustic disturbance from vessel noise is identified by the federal government as a key threat to the recovery of the southern resident killer whale (SRKW). Research indicates that underwater vessel noise can interfere with their ability to hunt, navigate and communicate with each other. SRKW critical habitat directly overlaps with international shipping routes, ferry routes and other marine traffic routes in the Salish Sea.

The purpose of the trial was to better understand and measure the level of noise reduction which is achieved through reduced vessel speed. During the trial period, the ECHO Program team used AIS to monitor and measure commercial vessel participation rates, and hydrophones to assess the impact of reducing vessel speed on underwater noise. Potential financial and operational impacts to the shipping industry will be evaluated.

A full analysis of the effectiveness of slowing vessels down to reduce acoustic disturbance will be conducted by the ECHO Program team, with study results available in 2018. In consultation with our vessel operators committee regarding industry impacts, this analysis will be used to inform decision making and determine next steps.

Trial location

Trial area and transition zones.

Haro Strait is an important summer feeding area for southern resident killer whales and has been identified as a key hot spot for vessel noise disturbance.

The trial slowdown area was located between Discovery Island at the southern end, and Henry Island at the northern end. The distance of the trial area was16.6 nautical miles inbound, 14.9 nautical miles outbound.

Transition speed zones have been marked to the north and south of the trial zone.

Trial participants

The voluntary trial was planned and coordinated by the ECHO Program with the assistance of a vessel operators committee representing BC Coast Pilots, BC Ferries, the Chamber of Shipping of British Columbia, Cruise Line International Association North West and Canada, Hapag-Lloyd (Canada) Inc., Holland America Group, the Shipping Federation of Canada, the Pacific Pilotage Authority, Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, Washington State Ferries and Transport Canada.

Thank you to the following organizations for taking part in the vessel slowdown trial this summer:
AAL Shipping
ACGI Shipping Inc.
BC Coast Pilots
BC Ferries
Buchanan Cruises, LLC
Carnival Cruise Line
Celebrity Cruise Lines
Chamber of Shipping
Colley West Shipping Ltd.
Cruise Lines International Association North West and Canada
Crystal Cruises
CSL International
Disney Cruise Line
Evergreen Line
Fairmont Shipping (Canada) Ltd.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
G2 Ocean
Georgia Strait Alliance
Hamburg Sud
Holland America Line
Hudson Shipping Lines
Inchcape Shipping Services
International Ship-Owners Alliance of Canada
K Line
Mason Agency Ltd.
Mitsui O.S.K. Lines
Montship Inc.
MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company
Navitrans Shipping Agencies West Inc.
Neptune Bulk Terminal
Norton Lilly Vancouver
Norwegian Cruise Line
NYK Line
Oceaenia Cruises
Oxbow Sulphur Canada
Pacific Basin Shipping
Pacific NorthWest Ship & Cargo Services Inc.
Pacific Pilotage Authority
Princess Cruise Line
Ravensdown Shipping Services Ltd.
Robert Reford
Royal Canadian Navy
Royal Caribbean International Cruise Line
SAAM SMIT Vancouver Inc.
Saga Welco AS
Seabourn Cruise Line
Seaspan ULC
Shipping Federation of Canada
Swire Shipping
Trans-Oceanic Shipping Co. Ltd
Transport Canada
Valles Steamship (Canada) Ltd.
Vancouver Fraser Port Authority
Washington State Ferries
Westward Shipping Ltd.
Westwood Shipping Lines
Wheelhouse Shipping Agency
Wilhelmsen Ships Service


We would like to thank the following organizations for foregoing their stipends to support continued ECHO Program research.

Evergreen Shipping Agency (America) Corporation
Holland America Line
Pacific Basin Shipping
Princess Cruise Line
Ravensdown Shipping Services Pty Ltd
Saga Welco AS
Seabourn Sojourn
Washington State Ferries

Results to date

Results to date confirm that underwater noise from the commercial vessels participating in the trial is reduced when they slow down. Overall, vessels normally travelling faster, for example container ships travelling at 18-20 knots, showed the largest reductions in underwater noise emissions because they reduced the most in speed.

However, when looking at noise reduction on a per knot basis, vessels that would normally be travelling slower, for example bulk carriers or tankers travelling 13-15 knots, showed a greater per knot noise reduction.

The study also examined how slowing vessels down affected total sound in the underwater environment, or “ambient noise”. Total underwater noise was measured using a hydrophone located two kilometres away from the shipping lane in the trial slowdown area, in an important feeding area for southern resident killer whales (SKRW). Data showed a measurable reduction in ambient noise during the trial period.

Since SRKW use echolocation to find and capture their prey, vessel noise can interfere with their ability to hunt, as well as their ability to communicate with each other. The exact benefits of the vessel slowdown trial’s noise reductions to the SRKW are challenging to measure in the field so ECHO Program consultants are currently estimating the potential benefits using computer models.


Vessel slowdown trial – backgrounder [PDF]  
Vessel slowdown trial – operational communications, procedures and tracking plan [PDF]  
Vessel slowdown trial – infographic [PDF]  
Vessel slowdown trial – presentation: April 27, 2017 [PDF]  
Vessel slowdown trial – map with coordinates [PDF]  
Vessel slowdown trial – pilot decision matrix [PDF]  
Vessel slowdown trial – agent decision matrix [PDF]  
Vessel slowdown trial – agent portal instructions (provided by Pacific Pilotage Authority)  [PDF]  
Vessel slowdown trial – stipend application [link] Vessel slowdown trial – summary report – initial results [PDF]  
Vessel slowdown trial – summary report – interim results [PDF]  
ECHO Program


Pre-trial update August 2
Pre-trial update August 9
Newsletter Week 1
Newsletter Week 2
Newsletter Week 3
Newsletter Week 4
Newsletter Week 5
Newsletter Week 6
Newsletter Week 7  
Newsletter Week 8
Newsletter Week 9
Newsletter wrap-up

Please check back to this page for up-to-date information about the trial including resources, announcements and changes. Or subscribe to receive regular updates.