Under its commitment in reducing underwater noise, the Port of Vancouver, British Columbia, requested all vessels transiting Haro Strait to reduce their speed to 11 knots (speed through the water) between Discovery Island at the southern end, and Henry Island at the northern end, starting from August 7 to October 6, 2017.
As explained, the population of endangered southern resident killer whales is just 78 individuals (according to data from April 2017) and the species has shown little sign of recovery since the 1980s. Acoustic disturbance from vessel noise is identified as a key threat to the recovery of the southern resident killer whale (SRKW), as it can interfere with their ability to hunt, navigate and communicate with each other. SRKW critical habitat directly overlaps with international shipping routes, ferry routes and other marine traffic routes in the Salish Sea.
The purpose of the trial is to better understand and measure the level of noise reduction which is achieved through reduced vessel speed.
As it was reported earlier, during the trial period, the ECHO Program team will use AIS to monitor and measure commercial vessel participation rates, and hydrophones to assess the impact of reducing vessel speed on underwater noise. Potential financial and operational impacts to the shipping industry will also be evaluated.
High vessel participation rates will greatly enhance the strength and value of the information collected, in turn supporting rigorous analysis and sound, scientific conclusions on the effectiveness of the trial.
The port informed that, at the conclusion of the trial, a full analysis of the effectiveness of slowing vessels down to reduce acoustic disturbance will be conducted by the ECHO Program team. This analysis will be used to inform decision making and determine next steps.
More than 30 companies so far have agreed to participate in the pilot program, including Carnival Cruise Line, COSCO, CMA CGM, Hapag-Lloyd, Maersk, MOL, OOCL, NYK Line (Canada) etc.
Haro Strait is an important summer feeding area for southern resident killer whales and has been identified as a key hot spot for vessel noise disturbance. The distance of the trial area, between Discovery Island at the southern end, and Henry Island, is 16.6 nautical miles inbound, 14.9 nautical miles outbound. Transition speed zones have been marked to the north and south of the trial zone.