A new hydrophone speaker at the Sheringham Point Lighthouse in Shirley is giving tourists a live underwater soundtrack of the Salish Sea.
The hydrophone is essentially an underwater microphone about 15 metres from the shore.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has used the hydrophone to record whale sounds for more than a decade. It recently partnered with the Lighthouse Society to put in the speaker to allow visitors to listen to the whale songs.
“A lot of long squeals is the best way to describe it,” said Keri Cable, who’s visiting from Washington State.
Paul Cottrell, marine mammal response lead with the DFO, told CHEK News the area around Sheringham Point can be a busy corridor for marine traffic as whales like humpback, gray and killer whales often travel through.
He added the sounds being broadcasted are whales playing, hunting for food or communicating for travel.
Elizabeth Silkes, visiting from New York City, said the speaker is a great idea for tourists like herself.
“Anything we can do to better connect with the natural world and with whales is so special,” Silkes said. “You know, we have been looking out for them and watching for the blows and this is just another way we can connect and keep an eye out for them.”
The hydrophone at Sheringham Point Lighthouse is part of a bigger network of hydrophones across the province that the DFO uses to monitor marine traffic.
Cottrell said the DFO can monitor the sounds live 24 hours a day to better understand the marine movement underwater and what could be affecting it on land.
“We can look at vessel traffic issues, underwater noise and in the case recently of knowing where the whales are if we have an oil spill,” Cottrell said. “If we have an oil spill, and we know the trajectory and we know where the whales are, we can go out and help potentially if we have to.”
Both Silkes and Cable told CHEK News the speaker is a great feature for the lighthouse, adding it would be beneficial to have more at similar tourist locations around Vancouver Island.
“Especially if you could pair it with some education,” Cable added. “I think if you had somebody here explaining what you’re hearing, it would be super cool.”
Currently, there are two hydrophone speakers open to the public, including the Sheringham Point Lighthouse and one in Kelsey Bay near Sayward.
Cottrell said these locations have had huge success and the DFO is looking at expanding its public speaker network, hopefully adding more public speakers to tourist hot spots around the Island.