Douglas Coupland-narrated video shows ship noise impacts on whales
For threatened whale populations, sound is essential to every element of their lives – from eating and mating to family connection. In a new video on the subject, narrator and famed BC author Douglas Coupland explains:
The video, from science-based conservation group Oceans Initiative, uses 3-D animation to visualize how whales interact with their environment and how ship noise impacts whales off BC’s coast.
New scientific research
The short film accompanies the publication of new paper in the scientific journal Animal Conservation, co-authored by world-renowned whale researcher Dr. Rob Williams from BC-based Oceans Initiative and the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, his colleague Erin Ashe, and Chris Clark and Dimitri Ponirakis from Cornell University’s Bioacoustics Research Program.
For three years, the research team placed state-of-the-art underwater microphones from Cornell University up and down BC’s coast, measuring ocean noise over six month periods. What they found is that critical orca habitat on BC’s south coast – around the Salish Sea and Strait of Juan de Fuca – is rife with noise pollution that threatens their survival.
Ship noise creates what Williams refers to as the “cocktail party effect”, whereby louder background noise competes with whales ability to navigate their world and communicate with each other.
The paper concludes that current median noise levels “reduce the communication spaces” for fin whales, humpbacks and orca by 1, 52 and 62%, respectively. Under “noisy conditions” the impact rises to 30, 94, and 97%.
Oil, LNG tankers threaten quiet, north coast habitat
Meanwhile, BC’s north coast offers unusually quiet habitat for humpbacks and other cetaceans – but all that would change dramatically if proposals for new supertankers carrying oil and liquefied natural gas go ahead.
The video explains, “Some species have evolved a sophisticated sonar system called echo-location to find what they need to survive. As a killer whale moves through its murky, blue world, it looks around with focused beams of sound. If, say, a Chinook salmon passes through a beam, it will identify it and eat it.”
“But for whales and dolphins, sound isn’t just about what’s for dinner – it’s also about avoiding predators, finding mates, navigation, and staying connected to their family.”
New proposals for multiple oil and LNG terminals in Kitimat and Prince Rupert would place similar stresses on north coast whale and dolphin habitat.
Besides reconsidering plans for new tanker traffic, solutions can be found in ship quieting technology. As the study’s lead author Rob Williams told the Vancouver Sun’s Larry Pynn, “You don’t have to quiet every ship. It turns out…if you can identify the noisiest 10 per cent of the ships, and quiet those, you’ll probably get a 50-per-cent reduction.”