Fifty-three marine shipping industry organizations, along with Washington State Ferries, have committed to participate in a voluntary study, said to be the first of its kind, to focus on the relationship between slower vessel speeds, underwater noise levels and effects on southern resident killer whales, according to the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority.
The port said that between Aug. 7 and Oct. 6, 2017, the speed of participating vessels will be reduced through the water in Haro Strait, when it is feasible and safe to do so. Haro Strait is located 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. Approximately 900 deep sea vessels will transit Haro Strait during the study period.
During the research trial, vessels will be asked to navigate over underwater listening stations, also known as hydrophones, at a speed of 11 knots, which is slower than typical deep-sea vessel operating speeds. The hydrophones 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.
With 100 percent of the members of shipping associations Chamber of Shipping, Cruise Line International Association Northwest and Canada and Shipping Federation of Canada confirming their intent to participate, the 54 confirmed marine industry participants represent a very significant proportion of large commercial vessel movements through Haro Strait.
Cruise line participants include Carnival, Celebrity, Crystal, Disney, Hapag-Lloyd, Holland America, Norwegian, Oceania, Ponant, Princess, Royal Caribbean and Seabourn.
“The 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,” said Robin Silvester, president and CEO of the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority. “We know that impacts to vessel schedules can be costly, 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.