Welcome to our Listening for Whales Portal
Our hydrophones, or underwater microphones, are listening to underwater sound 24 hours a day and picking up whale calls and all kinds of other underwater noise including the disturbance created by passing vessels. All of this data is recorded and saved on a University of Victoria Ocean Networks Canada super computer so it can be used for research purposes, and particularly right now to garner information which might help save our highly endangered Southern Resident Orca population which may be heading for extinction. These are very intelligent whales related to the dolphins. They have a well defined language with different dialects, have a matriarchal family structure and have a diet that almost exclusively consists of Chinook salmon.
Unfortunately the Chinook salmon are no longer as plentiful as in the past and the Orca have to expend a lot more time and energy using their echo-location to find their prey. Problem is that with all the small vessels and shipping in our area, the sometimes intense noise created by their engines and particularly the under water cavitation from their propellers is interfering with the Orcas’ ability to find enough food. They are starving! So we are documenting the intensity of noise from vessel traffic, identifying the presence of whales and determining the effect that this noise is having on our whale populations so we can make recommendations as to how we can reduce the harmful effects of noise on whale activity in our waters.
Here below are two spectrogram chart images which show a visual representation of the sound being recorded by our hydrophone out at East Point Saturna Island. Unfortunately we are having a problem with broadcasting the sound, but when this is resolved you will also hear the whales, the intensity of the vessel noise and really appreciate how the whale communication and foraging eco-location are obliterated by this noise. It would be like talking to someone beside you at the airport just as a jet plane is taking off.
At the present time it is necessary for you to become a member of SIMRES in order to access the live-streaming of our East Point hydrophone. It is only $10/year to join and you can find a Pay-Pal link on our members page. You would also be showing your support for the work SIMRES is doing! Just contact us to have the password sent to you.
The spectrogram image shown above from our hydrophone at East Point on Saturna Island is what you will see when you log in but you will likely have to make a small adjustment to the controls at the bottom of the page. The setting inside the red circle for “Step Size” will often be at a default setting of 6dB and should be reset to 10dB as shown here. The other red circle for “Reference” will also likely default at 47dB and should be set at 54dB as shown here so that the active screen imagery is set up properly for viewing.
The image you see here indicates that there is very little ambient noise. The black is frequencies that are totally quiet, the blue is moderate noise likely created by wave action or currents and the flecks of green showing bursts of higher intensity sound that is relatively normal underwater noise from other sources.
The spectrogram image shown below is a perfect example of a ship passing our hydrophone at East Point on Saturna Island. The “Ship Tracking” map at the bottom of the page (Click to view) shows the vessel that is captured by the hydrophone (in the red circle). It is identified as the container ship, BARDU, registered in the Marshal Islands, heading for Tacoma Washington and traveling at a speed of 20.7 knots.
This spectrogram image is showing the intensity of the noise which is being produced by the ship’s propeller cavitation. The lower noise intensity is in the higher frequencies shown as blue with spikes in the very high frequencies between 50000 Hz and 100000 Hz. The green between 20500 Hz and 50000 Hz is quite noisy. The yellow between 10500 Hz and 20500 Hz is very noisy and the red between 0 and 10000 Hz is intensely noisy. If you see the chart light up with yellow and red peaks as high as 100000Hz this is usually a small vessel with the very high rotation and higher frequency and intensity of cavitation which would be expected of a smaller, faster rotating propeller. Here is an example below.
Human hearing is between 20 and 20000 Hz. Orca hearing is between 500Hz and 100000 Hz, they communicate below 15000 Hz and their echo-location is between 15000 and 100000 Hz. So it is clear how vessel noise, especially small boats, can interfere with Orca foraging and communication.
We will soon have the sound as well and you will hear the propeller cavitation, engine noise and any tools or other items being dropped onto the inside of the ship's hull. The Orca echo-locate their prey and communicate in the yellow and red area shown in this spectrogram, so they will have a difficult time finding food or socializing under conditions like this.
Here is a map showing Saturna Island which is generated by Marine Traffic: Global Ship Tracking at https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/home/centerx:-123.1/centery:48.8/zoom:11
This is what our hydrophone looks like. It is deployed about 200 feet offshore at a depth of 60 feet with cables coming ashore to our computer terminal which is located at the X on the above map.