Listening stations in Salish Sea aim to help endangered orcas

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Salish Sea listening devices are aimed at helping to reduce ship noise on the ocean and help the endangered southern resident killer whales.

A common sight in the Salish Sea, southern resident killer whales.

The 74 remaining orcas are increasingly the subject of research to help with their survival.

A new array of hydrophones on the floor of the Salish Sea are there to help reduce the effects of commercial shipping noise on whales in B.C.’s coastal waters.  The orcas need quiet to forage for food, which is critical to increasing their numbers, according to David Hanny, Chief Science Officer, JASCO Applied Sciences.

“It’s really important because these animals use sound the way we often use vision. and they need a very quiet environment to be healthy,” said Hanny.

Through funding from Transport Canada, researchers at JASCO Applied Sciences installed an underwater listening station in Boundary Pass.

The station consists of two observation frames, each with eight underwater hydrophones, installed 190 metres below the shipping lanes of Boundary Pass, about 50 kilometres south of Vancouver.

This area is a critical habitat for the southern residents.

The station records the orcas and tracks the noise made by commercial vessels.

“The reason that we’re measuring the ships is to try to understand what is it about ships that makes them noisy, so that, we can in the future, make quieter ships,” Hanny said.

Through other partnerships with Ocean Networks Canada, there are now more than two dozen hydrophones along the west coast gathering data, according to Dr. Kate Moran, President and CEO, Ocean Networks Canada.

“We need several hydrophones to triangulate to not only detect that they are there, but where they are coming from and where they are going to try and understand their behaviour. so we can protect them better,” Dr. Moran said.

Researchers hope by capturing images and sounds of marine life such as these, they can help to create a quieter and healthier world.

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Mary GriffinMary Griffin

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