A group of Saturna residents and whale enthusiasts gathered at the community hall for a discussion on the effects of noise pollution on whales. Everyone seemed to walk away from the talk with a realization that the ships we see passing by our island every day, from large commercial vessels to whale watching boats, limit the quality of life of the orcas and humpbacks that frequent these waters.
Orla Robinson and Krista Trounce from Port Metro spoke to us first about the ECHO program which aims to use hydrophones to track the noise from ships, and also marine mammals, travelling in their jurisdiction. The wealth of data these hydrophones provide will allow for possible planning, mitigation, and incentives to try to encourage ship owners to make their ships quieter.
They explained the scientific process of cavitation caused by ships’ propellers that produce the majority of vessel noise. The power of these sounds was demonstrated by a clip played for us, an orca’s call being drowned out by a passing ship. Orla and Krista showed us how orca behaviour is affected. Sometimes orcas will leave the noisy area, either for a short period of time or a long one. Orcas can also be forced to limit their hunting range as a wall of noise is created between them and possible prey.
Tom Dakin from Ocean Networks Canada, who has been a big help with the SIMRES hydrophone, presented the technology behind the underwater listening station set up at Port Metro. It includes four hydrophones, allowing the direction a noise is coming from to be pinpointed and provides a wealth of data for scientists.
Finally David Hannay from JASCO demonstrated the incredibly thorough software that has been developed to store and analyze the data captured from the underwater listening station. It was amazing to be able to pinpoint a whale call and listen to it, or hear fish burping as they passed by.
After an intense and informative question period the audience mingled, impressed by the presentation and inspired to do whatever we can to help reduce vessel noise.
Event Reporting by Sofia Osborne