News / Vancouver

Whale ahoy! New guidelines aim to help ships avoid whale collisions

The mariner's guide comes at a time when wildlife advocates are warning increased tanker traffic from Kinder Morgan will threaten whale populations

Orcas were hit in three out of 30 reported whale-ship collisions from 2004 to 2011 in B.C., according to the Vancouver Aquarium's new mariner's guide.

Vancouver Aquarium

Orcas were hit in three out of 30 reported whale-ship collisions from 2004 to 2011 in B.C., according to the Vancouver Aquarium's new mariner's guide.

A new guide for ship crews aims to help vessels avoid collisions with whales in B.C. waters but wildlife advocates say policymakers need to step up in order to save endangered species.

The Mariner’s Guide, created by the Vancouver Aquarium in partnership with Port Vancouver and Port of Prince Rupert, recommends that ships slow down by 10 knots in order to reduce the chance of collision.

The guide also includes tips on how to identify the different whales found off B.C.’s coast.

“We need to reduce the impact as much as possible between ships and whales,” said Andrew Dumbrille, senior specialist in sustainable shipping at WWF Canada

“Mariner guides are a good tool to educate and bring awareness around these issues, but the next step is regulation and for enforcement of that regulation.”

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There were 30 reported collisions between whales and boats in B.C. from 2004 to 2011, according to the guide. But the actual number of collisions is likely higher because crews on large vessels are less likely to detect a collision, especially if the whale is small, the guide adds.

A necropsy done on an endangered southern resident orca that was found near the Sunshine Coast in December 2016 showed it suffered blunt-force trauma before dying.

Other endangered species that live along B.C.’s coast include the blue whale, sei whale, north Pacific right whale, and leatherback sea turtle, according to Vancouver Aquarium’s guide for mariners.

Dumbrille, who helped put together a similar guide for ships travelling through the Hudson Strait in Canada’s Arctic, says slowing down not only helps ships avoid colliding into whales, it also reduces underwater noise pollution. Ship-traffic noise affects whales because they use echolocation to navigate, hunt, and communicate with each other, he explained.

“It really disrupts foraging, calving, and social habitat of whales. They just can’t hear and they can’t communicate.”

A freighter passes under the Lionsgate Bridge.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro

A freighter passes under the Lionsgate Bridge.

Dumbrille applauded a Port of Vancouver initiative that reduces port fees for crews who reduce the noise their vessels make as they approach the harbour. The Port of Vancouver also maintains underwater microphones that provide data to researchers studying the effect noise pollution has on whales.

With the looming threat of increased tanker traffic along B.C.’s coast due to the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, wildlife advocates have called for restrictions on oil tankers.

But large ships are a reality for many communities, Dumbrille pointed out. He wants Transport Canada to create ‘quiet zones’ in certain parts of the ocean important to whale populations. The authority should also enforce speed limits in those areas, he said.

“Its not like we can [make] do without shipping,” he said.

“We just have to do it right and put in the right rules.”