Maritime group to study effects of vessel noise on whales


A total of 53 marine shipping industry organizations have committed to participate in a first of its kind voluntary study in the British Columbia and Washington state areas that will focus on the relationship between vessel speeds, underwater noise levels and their effect on killer whales.

As part of the study, the speed of participating vessels will be reduced through the water in Haro Strait, when it’s feasible and safe to do so, between Aug. 7 and Oct. 6, 2017. Haro Strait’s located on the U.S.-Canada border between Vancouver Island’s Saanich Peninsula and San Juan Island, and is an important summer feeding area for the endangered southern resident killer whale population.  About 900 deep sea vessels are expected transit Haro Strait during the study period.

During the research trial, vessels will be asked to navigate over underwater listening stations at a speed of 11 knots, which is slower than typical deep-sea vessel operating speeds. The listening stations will monitor ambient and vessel underwater noise, as well as the presence of whales, and automated vessel tracking will be used to monitor vessel speed.

All members of the shipping associations Chamber of Shipping, Cruise Line International Association Northwest & Canada and Shipping Federation of Canada have confirmed their intent to participate, as has Washington State Ferries, the division of the Washington State Dept. of Transportation that operates the state’s passenger ferry service. “Industry’s commitment to this voluntary research trial is a clear demonstration of the collective focus we have on ensuring a healthy marine environment, and we greatly appreciate our partners’ support,” Port of Vancouver (B.C.) President and Chief Executive Officer Robin Silvester said. “We know that impacts to vessel schedules can be costly to the shipping industry, but we also know the more vessels that participate in the trial, the more robust the scientific analysis will be, and the greater the opportunity for trial data to support evidence-based decision making about future vessel noise management measures.”

Existing scientific evidence indicates that underwater noise from vessels can interfere with killer whale echolocation clicks, calls and whistles, inhibiting the ability to hunt, navigate and communicate. Existing research also suggests that vessels operating at lower speeds typically generate less underwater noise. Participants in the study, according to the Port of Vancouver, include CMA CGM, Evergreen Line, K Line, Maersk, Mediterranean Shipping Co., Mitsui OSK Lines, NYK Line and OOCL.

The Port of Vancouver in February began offering harbor dues discounts for quiet cargo ships, adding new incentive criteria to its existing EcoAction program, 
as part of the port authority’s long-term goal of reducing the impacts of commercial shipping activities on at-risk whales.