The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority-led Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program has launched its sixth season of large-scale underwater noise reduction initiatives to support the recovery of southern resident killer whales, according to a prses release.
As part of the ECHO Program’s 2022 measures, ship operators are encouraged to slow down or stay distanced while transiting through key areas of southern resident killer whale critical habitat.
This year, the program’s underwater noise reduction measures will cover a record-high distance of about 80 nautical miles of the Salish Sea, including at Swiftsure Bank; Haro Strait and Boundary Pass; and in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
These measures will run from approximately June to November, when southern resident killer whale presence is typically highest, the port said.
“Over the last six years, the ECHO Program has become internationally recognized for implementing one of the world’s largest, and most successful, voluntary efforts to reduce underwater noise from ships,” said Duncan Wilson, vice president of environment and external affairs. “We hope to serve as an example, globally, of how collaborative efforts can create quieter oceans for endangered whales.”
New in 2022, the ECHO Program will coordinate an expanded ship slowdown trial at Swiftsure Bank, a known foraging area for southern resident killer whales that overlaps with international shipping lanes. This year, the slowdown extends to the inbound shipping lane, which is the main entry point used by commercial ships to reach the Port of Vancouver.This measure is in addition to Transport Canada’s Seasonal Slowdown Area outside of the shipping lanes, which also comes into effect on June 1.
“We are proud to work closely with the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority and the members of the ECHO Program to protect this iconic species, and to continue to provide a safer, quieter environment in which this endangered whale population can recover,” said OmarAlghabra, Minister of Transport Canada. “The Government of Canada works closely with Indigenous partners, industry, and local stakeholders to put in place concrete measures to help protect the Southern Resident killer whales.”
The overarching goal of the ECHO Program’s measures is to reduce threats to at-risk whales posed by commercial ship traffic. Underwater noise is one of the key threats to southern resident killer whales due to its potential to interfere with their ability to hunt, navigate and communicate.
Launched in 2014, the ECHO Program is one of the port authority’s key efforts to facilitate Canada’s trade through the Port of Vancouver within a context of strong environmental protection.
“These expanded measures across both Canadian and U.S. waters could not have been achieved without the collaboration of manyfrom across Indigenous communities, government agencies, the marine transportation industry, and environmental groups in Canada and the U.S.,” addedWilson. “We thank our partners and advisors for their support and participation in these important efforts to support the recovery of one of the region’s most iconic species.