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Port authority-led ECHO Program launches expanded measures to support recovery of southern resident killer whales

June 1, 2022

Large-scale measures encourage ship operators to slow down or stay distanced in southern resident killer whale critical habitat

Today, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority-led Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program launches its sixth season of large-scale underwater noise reduction initiatives to support the recovery of southern resident killer whales.      

As part of the ECHO Program’s 2022 measures, ship operators are encouraged to slow down or stay distanced while transiting through key areas of southern resident killer whale critical habitat. To date, more than 80 marine transportation organizations have confirmed their intention to participate.

This year, the program’s underwater noise reduction measures will cover a record-high distance of about 80 nautical miles of the Salish Sea, including at Swiftsure Bank; Haro Strait and Boundary Pass; and in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. These measures will run from approximately June to November, when southern resident killer whale presence is typically highest. 

“Over the last six years, the ECHO Program has become internationally recognized for implementing one of the world’s largest, and most successful, voluntary efforts to reduce underwater noise from ships,” said Duncan Wilson, vice president of environment and external affairs. “We hope to serve as an example, globally, of how collaborative efforts can create quieter oceans for endangered whales.”

New in 2022, the ECHO Program will coordinate an expanded ship slowdown trial at Swiftsure Bank, a known foraging area for southern resident killer whales that overlaps with international shipping lanes. This year, the slowdown extends to the inbound shipping lane, which is the main entry point used by commercial ships to reach the Port of Vancouver. This measure is in addition to Transport Canada’s Seasonal Slowdown Area outside of the shipping lanes, which also comes into effect today.

The Swiftsure Bank slowdown trial takes place within the treaty-protected Usual and Accustomed Fishing Area of the Makah Tribe and the maritime territory of the Pacheedaht First Nation, an area of significant cultural and spiritual value where harvested resources of Indigenous nations are located. The Makah Tribe and the Pacheedaht First Nation are key advisors to the ECHO Program in the development and implementation of safe ship slowdown practices in this important area.  

“We are proud to work closely with the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority and the members of the ECHO Program to protect this iconic species, and to continue to provide a safer, quieter environment in which this endangered whale population can recover,” said Omar Alghabra, Minister of Transport Canada. “The Government of Canada works closely with Indigenous partners, industry, and local stakeholders to put in place concrete measures to help protect the Southern Resident killer whales.”

The overarching goal of the ECHO Program’s measures is to reduce threats to at-risk whales posed by commercial ship traffic. Underwater noise is one of the key threats to southern resident killer whales due to its potential to interfere with their ability to hunt, navigate and communicate. 

Launched in 2014, the ECHO Program is one of the port authority’s key efforts to facilitate Canada’s trade through the Port of Vancouver within a context of strong environmental protection.

Since 2017, the ECHO Program’s underwater noise reduction initiatives in the Salish Sea 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 killer whale foraging areas.

“These expanded measures across both Canadian and U.S. waters could not have been achieved without the collaboration of many from across Indigenous communities, government agencies, the marine transportation industry, and environmental groups in Canada and the U.S.,” added Duncan Wilson. “We thank our partners and advisors for their support and participation in these important efforts to support the recovery of one of the region’s most iconic species.”

For more information: 

About the ECHO Program
The Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program is a world-leading, first-of-its-kind program developed and led by the port authority to better understand and reduce the cumulative effects of commercial shipping on at-risk whales along British Columbia’s southern coast, with a focus on endangered southern resident killer whales.

About the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority
The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority is the federal agency responsible for the stewardship of the Port of Vancouver. Like all Canada Port Authorities, we are accountable to the federal minister of transport, and operate pursuant to the Canada Marine Act with a mandate to enable Canada’s trade through the Port of Vancouver, while protecting the environment and considering local communities. The port authority is structured as a non-share corporation, is financially self-sufficient and does not rely on tax dollars for operations. Our revenues come from port terminals and tenants who lease port lands, and from port users who pay various fees such as harbour dues. Profits are reinvested in port infrastructure. The port authority has control over the use of port land and water, which includes more than 16,000 hectares of water, over 1,500 hectares of land, and approximately 350 kilometres of shoreline. Located on the southwest coast of British Columbia in Canada, the Port of Vancouver extends from Roberts Bank and the Fraser River up to and including Burrard Inlet, bordering 16 municipalities and intersecting the traditional territories and treaty lands of several Coast Salish First Nations. The Port of Vancouver is Canada’s largest port, and the third largest in North America by tonnes of cargo. Enabling the trade of approximately $240 billion in goods with more than 170 world economies, port activities sustain 115,300 jobs, $7 billion in wages, and $11.9 billion in GDP across Canada. 

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