Scientists in B.C. are working on improving the overall detection of southern resident orcas and whales with the help of thermal imaging cameras installed at BC Ferries’ Sturdies Bay terminal on Galiano Island.
The cameras, which were installed in June, use temperature data to differentiate between marine mammals, ships and the surrounding water, even at night. The camera are on 24/7 and are part of a year-long pilot project that aims to improve the detection of whales in the Salish Sea, even at night.
The goal of the project is to determine if automated thermal imaging technology when used in combination with visual and acoustic detection, can be a reliable and effective way to detect whales.
Thermal imaging cameras are installed near the international shipping lane in Boundary Pass, which separates the Southern Gulf Islands in British Columbia from the San Juan Islands in Washington State.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada is the primary funder of the project. The project is in collaboration with the University of Erlangen in Germany and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.
“As a stakeholder in the Salish Sea, BC Ferries has a responsibility to understand how our activities may affect marine mammals in general and the Southern Resident Killer Whales in particular,” Mark Collins, BC Ferries’ president and CEO, said in a statement.
“Our deck crews are always on the lookout for marine mammals, and we voluntarily report sightings to the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network to help researchers gather information. We believe it is important to support research projects such as this one, as the marine community in general will benefit from these findings. “
BC Ferries said if the pilot is successful, the system could eventually be used to alert ships to the presence of southern resident orcas, humpbacks and other mammals in the Salish Sea. It could also be used to identify high-risk areas so those out on the water could decide to slow down or avoid the area when orcas and whales are present.
“Our crews have standing permission to deviate away from whales at the captain’s command when safe to do so. Vessels can also slow down, if deviation is not possible in confined waters,” Collins said.
“We are committed to working with scientists and whale researchers to identify new ways we can operate our ships to protect whales, while still meeting our obligations to the communities we serve.”