Canada Vessel noise is reducing ability of killer whales to hunt by about 25 per cent, new research suggests

08:06  12 october  2017
08:06  12 october  2017 Source:   Vancouver Sun

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Vessel noise can interfere with the killer whales ’ ability to hunt , navigate and communicate with each other, so US researchers are looking into what impact the project will have on the orcas. (Elaine Thompson | The Associated Press File).

When research - vessel -only intervals were excluded, vessel speed was the only significant predictor of noise levels, and explained 42% of the variation. Thus, measures that reduce vessel speed in the vicinity of killer whales would reduce noise expo-sure in this population.

5043F4F0-1E01-459F-85BC-C64341B90AF5: Southern resident killer whales pass by Village Bay on Mayne Island with whale watching boats nearby. © Ken Bradshaw Southern resident killer whales pass by Village Bay on Mayne Island with whale watching boats nearby.

New research suggests that underwater noise from vessel traffic in the Salish Sea is reducing the ability of endangered southern resident killer whales to hunt by 20 to 25 per cent, a Port of Vancouver official said Wednesday.

Orla Robinson, manager of the port’s Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation program, told a killer whale symposium in Vancouver that the research — based on “predictive models” rather than actual observations — also suggests that large ocean-going ships are responsible for about two-thirds of that diminished hunting ability and whale watching about one-third.

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Vessel noise can interfere with the killer whales ' ability to hunt , navigate and communicate with each other, so US researchers are looking into what impact the project will have on the orcas. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File).

Vessel noise can interfere with the killer whales ' ability to hunt , navigate and communicate with each other, so US researchers are looking into what impact the project will have on the orcas. (NOAA Fisheries/Vancouver Aquarium via AP, File).

Robinson also said that hydrophones indicate that while there is variation in vessel noises by location — ferries on scheduled routes, recreational boaters in the Gulf Islands and San Juan Islands — ocean-going ships are responsible for the greatest underwater noise in the region.

“Overall, the larger commercial vessels dominate,” she said, adding the goal moving forward is to reduce those noise levels “whether it’s through technology or changes in operational practices.”

The Salish Sea is an international designation that includes Puget Sound, Juan de Fuca Strait and the Strait of Georgia, shared waters that are critical habitat for the killer whales.

Robert Lewis-Manning, president of the Chamber of Shipping, said the “marine industry has acknowledged that mitigating underwater noise from vessel traffic and its negative impact to species at risk is a high priority that requires action that is both achievable and timely.”

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Blue whale vocal behavior is affected by man-made noise , even when that noise does not overlap the frequencies the whales use for communication, according to new research published Feb. Vessel speed biggest factor in noise affecting killer whales .

Serge Buy, CEO of the Canadian Ferry Association, noted that B.C. Ferries alone has invested $150,000 since 2015 on noise-related studies and has implemented measures such as low-cavitation propellers and electric drives to reduce noise.

Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc acknowledged that “everyone will have to do their part to reduce noise.” He also pledged “to do whatever it takes with whoever it takes” to protect endangered southern resident killer whales — down to just 76 individuals — from extinction.

“We are convinced that collectively there’s a real desire to do the right thing,” he told reporters at the symposium, attended by about 300 delegates, including scientists, industry, indigenous groups, and government officials. “We’ll ask all these people to do their part in a measured, balanced way to ensure we get it right.”

While the federal government says it is working on the noise issue, it also supports expansion of the Kinder Morgan oil pipeline which may lead to a seven-fold increase in tanker traffic. The federal Port of Vancouver is also pushing a $2-billion expansion of the container terminal at Roberts Bank in South Delta.

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December 2, 2015. Digital acoustic recording tags temporarily attached to killer whales measured vessel noise reaching the whales . Research has also found that the whales likely expend extra energy to call more loudly when boats are operating nearby. The new study by scientists from the

Seeing that ship noise happens at the same low frequencies used by baleen whales , a growing body of research found that it may mess up their ability to Another way of reducing underwater noise pollution is to have the ships slow down when they pass September 25 , 2017 By Amelia Donovan.

The port this summer sponsored a study in which ships were urged to go slow while transiting Haro Strait to reduce noise levels for the southern resident killer whales.

In Washington State, there is a strict law that prohibits vessels from approaching within 200 yards of the whales, whereas on the B.C. side there is only a 100-meter guideline and a difficult-to-prove requirement that the whales not be disturbed or harassed.

LeBlanc said he is prepared to consider a matching prohibition in Canadian waters if that is what experts call for. “We’re looking at all of the best advice possible … we’re open to all those suggestions. I’ll make the best decisions we can to ensure the recovery. These are complex questions that experts provide advice on.”

There is a thriving whale-watching industry in B.C. and Washington that closely shadows the killer whales throughout much of the year.

LeBlanc said the whale-watching industry’s success reflects the public’s close attachment to killer whales. “If people will travel huge distances and pay in some cases a lot of money for a chance to see these magnificent whales in their habitat, that’s a good thing.

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This may mean the animals are wearing themselves out to communicate during hunts , new research suggests . Part of that plan involves monitoring the effects of vessel traffic on killer whales . Social Calls.

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“The only thing is that it has to be done safely, obviously for the people participating in this activity and the whales themselves.” 

LeBlanc also said he would be prepared to reconsider fishing allocations to ensure the killer whales have enough chinook salmon — their preferred prey — for survival. Chum salmon place second on the southern residents’ diet.

“Restoring the habitat, ensuring better survival and recovery of chinook salmon is part of answering the prey challenge, but it may also come down to making allocation decisions.

“You have a lot of people competing with the whales for those chinook salmon. What’s the right balance in terms of other fisheries?”

The Pacific Salmon Commission reports a total catch of 1.69 million chinook in 2016, including 1.15 million by Americans and the rest by Canadian fisheries.

Other threats to killer whales include vessel strikes, inbreeding, contaminants and pollution, including a disastrous oil spill. The physical presence of vessels can also impact the whales.

John Ford, federal emeritus scientist who now teaches at the University of B.C., noted northern resident killer whales are doing well in comparison with the southern residents and number about 300. Mammal-eating transient, or Bigg’s, killer whales, also number close to 300, from Washington to southeastern Alaska.

“Food supply is clearly a big issue, probably the overwhelming issue,” Ford said of the southern residents.

The federal government last May announced a $75-million Coastal Restoration Fund as part of its $1.5-billion Oceans Protection Plan.

As part of that, the government announced this week the Pacific Salmon Foundation will receive $1.2 million over three years to expand its Pacific Salmon Explorer project to key salmon-bearing watersheds in B.C., while Victoria’s Ocean Networks Canada will receive $7.2 million for increased use of digital hydrophone and oceanographic technologies.

lpynn@postmedia.com

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