The ECHO Program leads, collaborates on and supports a range of projects, educational initiatives and voluntary research trials, which are designed to provide a better understanding of the cumulative effects of marine shipping on whales, and inform the development and testing of potential threat-reduction solutions.
On this page you’ll find links to our featured initiatives and a summary of all ECHO Program projects.
Our focus areas
Acoustic disturbance, physical disturbance and environmental contaminants are three of the four key threats listed in the Fisheries and Oceans Canada recovery strategy for at-risk whales in the region.
In 2015, the ECHO Program advisory working group helped identify underwater noise related to marine traffic as a priority focus area for the program. The ECHO Program also supports other threat-reduction projects related to reducing physical disturbances and environmental contaminants for whales in the region.
Availability of prey is identified as another key threat category for at-risk whales. While this threat category is not a focus area for the ECHO Program, the port authority’s habitat enhancement program is focused on creating and enhancing fish and wildlife habitat, which may help address this threat to at-risk whales.
Haro Strait and Boundary Pass voluntary ship slowdown
In 2020, the ECHO Program is coordinating a voluntary ship slowdown in Haro Strait and Boundary Pass over the summer months when southern resident killer whales are present.
Strait of Juan de Fuca voluntary inshore lateral displacement
The ECHO Program and Transport Canada, supported by regional and international partners, are reducing underwater noise levels in known killer whale feeding areas by moving tugboats further away.
Swiftsure Bank voluntary ship slowdown trial
New for 2020, the ECHO Program is coordinating a voluntary slowdown trial in Swiftsure Bank, off the southwest coast of Vancouver Island, a known area of importance for southern resident killer whales and other marine mammals.
Whales in our Waters tutorial
Developed for mariners by the ECHO Program and BC Ferries in partnership with Ocean Wise, the Whales in our Waters tutorial covers a range of topics to build awareness of local whale species, how to identify them, and best practices to implement when navigating ships in their presence.
Projects by focus area
The world-leading science produced by the ECHO Program and its partners is helping the marine industry, port authority, the Government of Canada and other regional, national and international organizations better understand how we can reduce the impacts of marine shipping on southern resident killer whales and other whale species. Below you’ll find information about ECHO Program initiatives that are underway or completed. Where available, links to the completed studies are included.
|Voluntary ship slowdown trial in Swiftsure Bank (2020)||Between August 1 and October 31, 2020, large commercial ships are asked to slow down when travelling outbound through Swiftsure Bank, to reduce underwater noise levels.||Completed|
|Voluntary ship slowdown in Haro Strait and Boundary Pass (2020)||Large commercial ships are asked to slow down when transiting through Haro Strait and Boundary Pass over the summer months, to reduce underwater noise levels.||Completed
|Strait of Juan de Fuca inshore lateral displacement (2020)||Between June 1 and October 31, 2020, tugboat operators are requested to move away from known whale feeding areas to reduce underwater noise levels.||Completed|
|Vessel noise correlations study||This study analyzed the statistical correlations between vessel design characteristics and underwater radiated noise levels, seeking to understand if certain vessel design or operational characteristics were correlated with louder or quieter vessels.
Phase 1 of the study analyzed data collected from Haro Strait and the Strait of Georgia between 2015-2018, while Phase 2 expanded to include: data collected by the Boundary Pass underwater listening station from 2018-2020; more detailed ship characteristics for a sub-set of vessels; and analysis of the variability in underwater radiated noise levels for repeat passes of the same ship.
|Download Phase 2 final report
Download Phase 1 final report
|Haro Strait and Boundary Pass voluntary vessel slowdown trial (2019)
|In 2019, the ECHO Program coordinated an expanded voluntary vessel slowdown trial in Haro Strait and Boundary Pass over the summer months when whales were present.
The monitoring period began June 1; the slowdown was activated on July 5 when the whales were confirmed as present within the trial area, and ended on October 15, 2019.
|Download final report|
|Inshore lateral displacement trial (2019)||The ECHO Program and Transport Canada, supported by regional and international partners studied how moving tugs and barges away from known whale feeding areas affects the underwater noise levels in those areas. This trial began on June 17, 2019 and ended on October 31, 2019.||Download final report|
|Haro Strait voluntary vessel slowdown (2018)
|In the summer of 2018, the ECHO Program supported an industry-led voluntary speed slowdown for ships transiting Haro Strait over the summer months when whales were present.||Read summary of results|
|Strait of Juan de Fuca lateral displacement trial (2018)||The ECHO Program and Transport Canada, supported by regional and international partners, led a voluntary trial in 2018 to study how moving ships away from known whale feeding areas would affect the underwater noise levels in those areas.||Download final report|
|Burrard Inlet underwater noise monitoring
|This project seeks to better understand underwater noise in Burrard Inlet through year-long installation of sea-floor hydrophones to measure total ambient noise and detect marine mammals, as well as through specific short-term hydrophone deployments to measure different noise sources in the harbour. The results of the 2019 monitoring program are now available, and monitoring activities are on-going in 2020 utilizing seafloor hydrophones at two locations. This project is led by the ECHO Program in partnership with Tsleil-Waututh Nation, supported by Transport Canada||Project underway|
|Ambient underwater noise evaluation||This project identified and evaluated the key factors affecting ambient noise at three hydrophone locations in the Salish Sea monitored by the ECHO Program over a two-year period (2016-2017). To evaluate changes in ambient underwater noise over time or with specific mitigations, it is important to understand how to consider and account for other factors, such as large ship and small boat traffic, currents, water temperature, weather and biological components.||Completed December 2019
|Educational outreach to mariners
|Since 2014 the ECHO Program has been delivering presentations regionally, nationally and internationally on the issue of vessel-whale interactions and the ECHO Program research findings. The port authority harbour patrol crew supports outreach and educational awareness efforts by boarding vessels calling the port and sharing educational materials from the ECHO Program such as an underwater noise infographic, information on the underwater listening station and the Mariner’s Guide to Whales, Dolphins, Porpoises of Western Canada.||View infographic: Effects of vessel underwater noise on whales|
|Strait of Georgia underwater listening station
|In partnership with Transport Canada, Ocean Networks Canada and JASCO Applied Sciences, Vancouver Fraser Port Authority installed an underwater listening station in the Strait of Georgia in 2015 to monitor not only underwater noise source levels from ships, but also marine mammal presence and total ambient underwater noise. The Strait of Georgia underwater listening station was maintained and operated for just over two and a half years. Fisheries and Oceans Canada also some provided funding support to this project.||Completed December 2018
|Vessel noise studies with regional partners||The ECHO Program and Fisheries and Oceans Canada supported a small boat underwater noise measurement study in Haro Strait to better understand the underwater noise levels of whale watch and other small boats that operate in the Salish Sea near southern resident killer whale summer feeding habitat. This study was conducted in parallel with the 2017 Haro Strait vessel slowdown trial which was measuring underwater noise levels from large piloted commercial ships in Haro Strait.||Completed April 2018
|Haro Strait vessel slowdown trial (2017)
|Between August 7 and October 6, 2017 the ECHO Program led a first-of-its-kind voluntary vessel slowdown trial in Haro Strait to better understand and measure the level of noise reduction achieved through reduced ship speed.||Completed October 2017|
|Killer whale behavioural response to vessel noise||This study sought to better understand how southern resident killer whales are predicted to respond to underwater noise from both large commercial ships and smaller whale watching boats.||Completed May 2017|
|Study of humpback whale calls in the presence of ships||This study aimed to better understand the potential effects of ship noise on humpback whale calls in B.C. waters using underwater sound recordings.||Completed May 2017|
|Port authority incentives for underwater noise – Ship quieting options study||What makes ships quieter? This study scanned the best options to reduce underwater noise from ships. The study recommended options to be included in the port authority’s EcoAction Program, which incentivizes ship operators to go above and beyond environmental regulations. As of January 1, 2017, ships with quiet classification notations or cavitation reduction technologies calling the Port of Vancouver are eligible for a discount on harbour due fees.||Completed January 2017|
|Regional ocean noise contributors study||How do different ships sound and where and how often do they transit in this region? This study identified and quantified the underwater noise contributions from various marine transportation sectors to overall regional ocean noise.||Completed January 2017|
|WhaleReport Alert System (WRAS)
|The WhaleReport Alert System mobile app helps to notify select regional commercial ship operators when whales are in their proximity. This one-year pilot project began in October 2018 and was led by the Vancouver Aquarium/Ocean Wise’s BC Cetacean Sightings Network, in collaboration with the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority-led ECHO Program and the Prince Rupert Port Authority.||Completed December 2019
|Whales in our Waters tutorial||Developed for mariners by BC Ferries and the ECHO Program in partnership with Ocean Wise, the Whales in our Waters tutorial covers a range of topics to build awareness of local whale species, how to identify them, and best practices to implement when navigating ships in their presence.||Tutorial launched February 2019|
|Large whale aerial surveys and strike risk assessment||Where is the risk of whale vessel strike the greatest? The ECHO Program supported Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s survey of large whale distribution off the southwestern coast of Vancouver Island using aerial surveillance and satellite tagging. The data collected through these surveys led to both a Fisheries and Oceans Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat report and peer reviewed publication titled: Assessing the Risk of Ship Strikes to Humpback and Fin Whales of the West Coast of Vancouver Island.||Completed March 2017|
|Mariner’s Guide to Whales, Dolphins, Porpoises of Western Canada||In collaboration with the Vancouver Aquarium/Ocean Wise and Prince Rupert Port Authority, the ECHO Program supported the development of the Mariner’s Guide to Whales, Dolphins, Porpoises of Western Canada which helps mariners identify marine mammals, their seasonal usage of areas along the west coast and ways to reduce potential interactions.||Completed January 2017
|Ocean Wise PollutionTracker project
|Since 2016, the ECHO Program has been supporting PollutionTracker, a Vancouver Aquarium/Ocean Wise initiative, to collect and analyze samples of sediment and mussels to establish baseline levels of environmental contamination and inform best practices in and around the water.||Completed December 2019
|Management of contaminants during underwater hull cleaning||In partnership with Transport Canada, the objectives of this project was to validate a new in-water hull cleaning technology, and to investigate if hull cleaning a ship’s hull may result in reductions to fuel consumption and underwater noise.||Completed March 2019|