News / Vancouver

Underwater station to monitor effects of ship noise on B.C. killer whales

Port Metro Vancouver teamed up with Ocean Networks Canada to study the affect of ship noise on orcas in the Strait of Georiga.

Orcas with a ship in the background in the Strait of Georgia.

Courtesy of Beamreach.org

Orcas with a ship in the background in the Strait of Georgia.

Noisy ships are making it tougher for killer whales to hear each other over the ocean din, but it’s not clear exactly which vessels cause the ruckus that makes it challenging for orcas to find food or stay near their pods.

In order to better understand what ships are making noise and how the sound affects whales in the Strait of Georgia – home to the endangered southern resident orca population – Port Metro Vancouver has teamed up with scientists from the University of Victoria’s Ocean Networks Canada and JASCO Applied Sciences to deploy an underwater listening station.

Data is already streaming after the hydrophone station was set up 170 metres below the surface on Monday, said Tom Dakin, sensor technology development officer at Ocean Networks Canada, in a Tuesday interview from the boat from which the station was deployed.  

It can detect commercial vessels, B.C. Ferries, fishing boats and whale watching craft, Dakin said. His hope is that after one or two years of monitoring, scientists will be able to identify the top noise polluters and replace them with quieter vessels.

Whales have already started to increase the volume of their calls to be heard over boats, Dakin said, pointing to research from the Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program.

“Unfortunately, like any of us, you can only yell so loud,” he said.  

Hearing is a whale’s primary sense. It helps they stay in touch with pod members so they don’t get split up.
“That’s a disaster for them, they’re very social animals,” Dakin said.

He gives the port a huge amount of credit for helping with the research.

“They’re going well above and beyond what they’re mandated to do. They’re being really good environmental stewards,” he said.

In a statement, the port said it is mandated to accommodate Canada’s growing trade in a sustainable way.

More on Metronews.ca