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Study reveals underwater noise is reduced when ships slow down, offering new science that could protect at-risk whales

June 13, 2018

Results released today by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority-led Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program’s Vessel Slowdown Trial show that when vessels slow down, underwater noise that may interfere with the ability of whales to feed is reduced.

The ECHO Program initiated the first-of-its-kind voluntary Vessel Slowdown Trial through Haro Strait last summer to study the relationship between slower ship speed, underwater noise levels, and effects on the endangered southern resident killer whales in one of their key feeding areas.

During the trial period, operators of cargo ships transiting a corridor of about 16 nautical miles were asked to navigate over listening stations (hydrophones) and reduce their speed to 11 knots, when it was feasible and safe to do so. More than 60 marine shipping industry organizations took part in the trial, allowing enough data to be collected to support rigourous analysis and robust scientific conclusions on the effectiveness of the trial.

Results from the trial demonstrate that reducing vessel speeds is an effective way of reducing the underwater noise generated by the vessel and reducing total underwater noise in nearby habitats, which can in turn benefit the behaviour and feeding success of the southern resident killer whale. Whales use sound to locate prey and ship noise can interfere with their ability to do that.

“The world-leading science produced by the ECHO Program and its partners is helping the marine industry, port authority and the Government of Canada better understand how we can reduce the impacts of marine shipping on southern resident killer whales,” said Robin Silvester, president and chief executive officer at the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority. “Because of the leadership shown by industry by participating in this trial, we were able to generate valuable results, which have helped inform future potential vessel noise reduction measures.”

Following the success of last year’s trial, and coupled with the continued focus from the Government of Canada on efforts to aid in the recovery of the southern resident killer whale population, the port authority and its ECHO Program partners will support an industry-led voluntary slowdown initiative this summer in Haro Strait, which is being spearheaded by the Chamber of Shipping, Cruise Lines International Association – North West & Canada and the Shipping Federation of Canada. This initiative will test the level of industry participation when vessel slowdown speed is optimized based on vessel type, and when the slow down comes into effect when whales are present in the area.

“Based on what we learned from last year’s trial and with ongoing input from the marine industry, we were able to better determine optimal slow down speeds that will both reduce underwater noise and ensure cargo can get to its destination on time,” said Silvester. “This is another important step that the marine industry is taking to support the recovery of the endangered killer whale population, and we look forward to recording even higher vessel participation rates and associated environmental benefits this summer.”

The final report from the 2017 trial is now available on the ECHO Program slowdown trial webpage.

For more information:

About the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority

The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority is responsible for the stewardship of the federal port lands in and around Vancouver, British Columbia. It is financially self-sufficient and accountable to the federal minister of transport and operates pursuant to the Canada Marine Act. The Port of Vancouver is Canada’s largest, and the third largest in North America by tonnes of cargo, facilitating trade between Canada and more than 170 world economies. Located in a naturally beautiful setting on Canada’s west coast, the port authority and port terminals and tenants are responsible for the efficient and reliable movement of goods and passengers, integrating environmental, social and economic sustainability initiatives into all areas of port operations. Enabling the trade of approximately $200 billion in goods, port activities sustain 115,300 jobs, $7 billion in wages, and $11.9 billion in GDP across Canada.

About the Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program

The award-winning Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program is a Vancouver Fraser Port Authority-led initiative aimed at better understanding and managing the impact of shipping activities on at-risk whales throughout the southern coast of British Columbia. The long term goal of the ECHO Program is to develop mitigation measures that will lead to a quantifiable reduction in potential threats to whales as a result of shipping activities. The ECHO Program is one of the port authority’s environmental programs, which works to protect and minimize impacts to the environment.

Media contact:

Kristina Driedger
Media relations and communications advisor
[email protected]

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