The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority has expanded its slow zone for vessels travelling in the Salish Sea, in a move to reduce noise to protect fragile populations of southern resident killer whales.
The Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) program, starting its sixth season, will now include an expanded ship slowdown trial at Swiftsure Bank, a known foraging area for the orcas that overlaps with international shipping lanes.
The slowdown extends to the inbound shipping lane, which is the main entry point used by commercial ships to reach the Port of Vancouver. The new measure is in addition to Transport Canada’s seasonal slowdown area outside the shipping lanes, which also comes into effect today.
Including the Swiftsure Bank, slowdown measures now cover Haro Strait and Boundary Pass and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and will run from June to November, when southern resident killer whale presence is typically highest.
All 25 members of J-Pod, including a three-month old female calf, have been in the Salish Sea since last week. There are only 75 southern residents, including members of K- and L-pods.
Port officials estimate the ECHO Program’s voluntary slowdowns in the Salish Sea have reduced underwater sound intensity by up to 55% in key orca foraging areas since 2017.
Underwater noise is one of the key threats to southern resident killer whales, since it can interfere with their ability to hunt, navigate and communicate with each other.
More than 80 marine transportation companies, including major bulk and container shippers, cruise ships and tug and towing companies, have confirmed participation in the ECHO program.