Working together to reduce underwater noise effects on whales
Southern resident killer whales (SRKW) are listed as endangered under both the Species at Risk Act in Canada and the Endangered Species Act in the U.S. Both countries’ governments recognize the need to take measures to reduce underwater noise generated by vessels, which has been shown to interfere with killer whales’ ability to hunt, navigate and communicate via echolocation.
Since 2017, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority-led Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program has been working with the marine transportation industry, environmental groups, Indigenous advisors, and government to coordinate voluntary vessel slowdowns and lateral displacements in key feeding areas within SRKW critical habitat.
Thanks to the marine transportation industry’s high participation rates in last year’s slowdown in Haro Strait and Boundary Pass, underwater sound intensity was reduced by nearly 50%.
About the 2021 voluntary ship slowdown in Haro Strait and Boundary Pass
The start and end dates of the Haro Strait and Boundary Pass voluntary slowdown are dependent on SRKW presence, but could begin as early as June 1, and could run for as long as November 30.
During the slowdown, 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 knots or less through the water for bulkers, tankers, ferries and government vessels
To learn more, visit the following resources:
- Fact sheet: 2021 Haro Strait and Boundary Pass voluntary slowdown
- Full sized map of slowdown area
- Instructional handout for ship personnel
- FAQ: Voluntary slowdown reimbursement program
Listen: Underwater noise before and during the slowdown
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, captured during the 2017 slowdown at Haro Strait and Boundary Pass.
Before the slowdown
Courtesy of ECHO Program
During the slowdown
Courtesy of ECHO Program
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.
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, 2020, the SRKW population totals 74 whales. 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.
- 2021 bi-weekly newsletter: Weeks 1 & 2
- 2021 bi-weekly newsletter: Weeks 3 & 4
- 2021 bi-weekly newsletter: Weeks 5 & 6
- 2021 bi-weekly newsletter: Weeks 7 & 8
- 2021 bi-weekly newsletter: Weeks 9 & 10
- 2021 bi-weekly newsletter: Weeks 11 & 12
- 2020 voluntary slowdown – Final report
- 2019 voluntary slowdown – Final report
- 2018 voluntary slowdown – Final report
- 2017 voluntary slowdown – Final 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.