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Scientists urge Canada to limit underwater noise to save B.C. killer whales

Vessel noise is one of the main threats to the southern resident killer whales

There are 78 orcas left in the southern resident killer whale population.

The Canadian Press

There are 78 orcas left in the southern resident killer whale population.

A group of scientists are calling on the Canadian government to limit ship noise in order to save the endangered southern resident killer whales.

The iconic population lives off the B.C. coast and after five deaths last year, has 78 members left. Vessel noise is one of the main threats to the endangered animals because it hurts their ability to navigate, communicate, and find food, according to the scientists’ open letter.

The researchers are calling on the federal government to take concrete action, including placing mandatory speed limits for ships, and creating noise-reduction targets and deadlines.

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Specifically, they want to see shipping noise go down by 3 dB by 2027 and by 10 dB in 2047 years.

“The goal is to reverse the upward trend … in deep-water ambient noise pollution during the second half of the 20th century, largely attributable to commercial shipping,” the letter reads.

“The government should consider every means available, including regulation, to achieve quantifiable improvements in the whales’ acoustic habitat.”

The Canadian government released a recovery plan for the southern resident killer whales in 2011 and an update report on the plan in 2017. It also recently committed to ensuring new industrial development will not increase underwater noise in the Salish Sea.

But much of the underwater noise comes from commercial shipping and researchers have previously said increased tanker traffic will pose a threat to whales.

The fish-eating southern resident killer whales make up one of four orca populations in waters off Canada’s Pacific coast, which also include northern resident, transient, and off-shore killer whales. 

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