A collaborative effort to create quieter and safer waters for the whales
Haro Strait and Boundary Pass are known areas of importance within the critical habitat of southern resident killer whales, which are listed as endangered in both Canada and the United States. Both countries’ governments have identified underwater noise from ships as one of the key threats to killer whales due to its interference with their ability to hunt, navigate and communicate via echolocation.
To reduce the impacts of commercial shipping on at-risk whales in this key area, the port authority-led Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program coordinates a voluntary ship slowdown in Haro Strait and Boundary Pass in collaboration with government, the marine transportation industry, environmental groups, and Indigenous communities.
The Haro Strait and Boundary Pass voluntary slowdown is one of three underwater noise reduction initiatives coordinated by the ECHO Program off the coasts of British Columbia and Washington State. Since 2017, these initiatives have encouraged thousands of ship operators to slow down or stay distanced in southern resident killer whale critical habitat, reducing underwater sound intensity by up to 55% in key southern resident killer whale foraging areas.
About the voluntary ship slowdown
The slowdown’s start and end dates are dependent on the presence of southern resident killer whales. This year, the slowdown began on June 1 and ran until November 30, 2023.
During the slowdown, large commercial ships transiting through Haro Strait and Boundary Pass are asked to voluntarily slow down to the below speeds, when it is safe and operationally feasible to do so:
- 14.5 knots or less through the water for vehicle carriers, cruise ships and container vessels
- 11 knots or less through the water for bulkers, tankers, ferries and government vessels
To learn more, visit the following resources:
- Fact sheet
- Full-sized map of slowdown area
- Instructional handout for ship personnel
- FAQ: 2023 Voluntary slowdown reimbursement program
Slowing down makes a difference
By slowing down, participating ship operators helped reduce underwater sound intensity in Haro Strait and Boundary Pass by up to 55% in 2021. Listen to the difference between a ship transiting at a regular speed versus a reduced speed, captured during the ECHO Program’s 2017 slowdown at Haro Strait and Boundary Pass.
Ship transiting at regular speed
Ship transiting at reduced speed
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. This voluntary slowdown initiative is one of the commitments under the ECHO Program’s Species at Risk Act, Section 11 Conservation Agreement.
- 2022 – Summary report
- 2021 – Summary report
- 2020 – Summary report
- 2019 – Summary report
- 2018 – Summary report
- 2017 – Summary report
Questions or feedback
For more information on the slowdown, please contact the ECHO Program team at [email protected] 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.