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Court adds new hurdles for BC oil sands pipeline as separate lawsuit calls for emergency orca protections

November 13, 2018

Over the past decade, plans for a big expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline in British Columbia have garnered pushback from ocean advocates. In late 2016, the plan gained its final approval from the Canadian government (see AEI coverage), but in late August, a Federal Appeals Court overturned that approval, citing the government’s failure to assess the effects […]

BC ship-quieting study stymied by lack of orcas

January 4, 2018

Last fall’s innovative 2-month voluntary slow-down of ships traveling to and from the Port of Vancouver was successful on one count—average overall shipping noise was reduced by 44%—but a stark absence of the normally abundant resident orcas stymied the equally important second line of inquiry: how would reducing the noise level, but spreading more moderate noise over longer time periods, […]

Why do we subject endangered orcas to ANY commercial whale-watching?

July 18, 2017

Here’s an idea that’s so obvious that I’m amazed it isn’t at the center of public discussion about the declining orca population in and around Puget Sound. I happened upon it online (well, not exactly happened upon, thanks to my “whales noise” Google News section…); it was a guest commentary in a Vancouver Island paper, and I’ll let […]

Ships to slow near Vancouver Island to reduce noise impacts in key orca feeding area

July 18, 2017

About 14 times a day, a large ship passes through Haro Strait on its way to or from the Port of Vancouver. From early August through early October, Port authorities are asking them to slow down, in a pilot project to assess how that might reduce the overall sound levels of shipping in this biologically […]

No-go zone proposal splits orca advocates

January 2, 2015

A proposal to exclude whale-watching boats from nearshore waters off San Juan Island in Puget Sound has been revived by a local orca protection group, Orca Relief Citizens Alliance.  A similar plan was proposed by NOAA in 2009-11,  but was abandoned after push-back from whale-watching groups, with a speed limit introduced instead.  In recent years, […]

Puget Sound orcas face challenges from boat noise & a de-listing petition from farmers

November 30, 2012

As the US Federal government takes up a petition calling for the removal of Puget Sound’s resident orcas from the Endangered Species list, a lack of funding at NOAA continues to hamper efforts to enforce regulations meant to protect them from harassment by whale watching boats.  Seattle’s Q13 TV news team tells the sorry tale here, […]

On the water with orca D-tag research crew

October 1, 2012

Oregon Public Broadcasting recently sent reporter Ashley Ahearn out with the researchers that are listening in on orca activity underwater (covered here last month), and her wonderful, detailed report is now online; check it out!  It includes two videos, one showing a tagged orca’s swimming track, along with every boat in its vicinity over the […]

D-TAG study listens to what Puget Sound orcas hear

September 11, 2012

Brad Hanson and colleagues at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center are currently conducting a second year of exciting new acoustics field research with the Southern Resident killer whales of Puget Sound.  As they did last year, researchers are attaching suction-cup digital acoustic recording tags (DTAGs) to orcas; the tags remain attached for up to four […]

Salmon shortage stresses orcas more than boat noise

June 23, 2012

A new research study of stress hormones in Puget Sound orcas shows that the whales actually were under less stress at times of higher vessel traffic – at least when their key food source, chinook salmon, was abundant.  Only when salmon were scarce did boat noise seem to increase stress levels. Ken Balcomb of the […]

Canadian sonar heard in US critical orca habitat

February 9, 2012

A Canadian frigate used its mid-frequency active sonar this week during a training exercise in Haro Strait, north of San Juan Island and south of Vancouver Island.  The sonar emissions from the HMCS Ottowa (right) were picked up by whale researchers at Beam Institute, who raised concerns about sonar use in an area designated by […]

NOAA increases whale-watching distance for orcas

April 11, 2011

Two years after proposing changes in whale-watching rules  in Puget Sound to protect endangered orca populations, NOAA has finalized its new standards.  Boats will need to stay twice as far from the whales (200 yards), and a half-mile wide “no-go” zone has been established along the entire west coast of San Juan Island, an important […]

Puget Sound orca population dwindles as action on boat noise lags

January 19, 2011

Seven years after the Southern resident killer whale population in Puget Sound was declared endangered, US government regulators appear poised to finally enact new regulations to protect orcas from boat noise in key foraging areas. In 2009, NOAA proposed increasing the minimum buffer that boats must give orcas, from 100 yards to 200 yards, and […]

Orca protection not sufficient, says Canadian federal court

December 9, 2010

Orca populations around Vancouver Island won a decisive victory in Canadian Federal Court this week, as Judge James Russell ruled that the Canadian government cannot rely on voluntary protocols and guidelines to protect orca critical habitat.  The judge brought acoustics into his decision by stressing  that critical habitat protections must include ecosystem features, including prey […]

New recordings detail shipping noise in key orca habitat

December 3, 2010

The VENUS ocean observatory network is clarifying the degree to which waters around Vancouver Island are infused with the shipping noise.  The data is reinforcing concerns that local orcas and other sea creatures are likely to experience several negative impacts, including chronic stress, the need to use more energy to talk louder, and perhaps interference […]

Soundwatch teams educate boaters near orcas in Puget Sound

September 2, 2010

In Puget Sound, the vulnerable population of 85 resident orcas face a daily onslaught of boat noise, from fishermen, commercial whale watching, and recreational watercraft.  Current voluntary guidelines call for boats to remain 100 yards away, and to slow to seven knots when within 400 yards.  “People don’t always grasp what 100 yards is,” said […]

Listen to the Orchive: 20,000 hours of Spong orca lab tapes

March 16, 2010

Paul Spong and Helena Symonds are legends in the field of whale research; since the early 1970’s they’ve dedicated themselves to studying orcas from their independent lab on an island between Vancouver Island and the mainland.  Over those many years, they’ve accumulated 20,000 hours of tapes, which are now being digitized and cleaned up (to […]

Puget Sound Boat Noise May Make Orcas Use More Energy While Foraging

September 11, 2009

Ongoing research by NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center continues to look more deeply into the effects of boat noise on Puget Sound orcas.  The research team, led by Marla Holt, had previously found that orca calls increase in volume in step with background boat noise: for each decibel of added background noise, their calls also […]

NOAA Proposes Doubling of Orca Whalewatching Distance

July 29, 2009

NOAA has proposed a doubling of the limit governing how close whalewatching boats may approach endangered orcas in the waters of Puget sound.  Current voluntary guidelines ask boats to remain at least 100 yards from the endangered killer whales, while the proposed new mandatory limit would be 200 yards in most areas, with a half-mile […]

Night Sonar Test in Northwest; Transient Orcas in Area

April 21, 2009

Earlier this month, the US Navy spent a night testing sonar and communications systems on the USS San Francisco, a submarine that had recently completed major repairs to its sonar dome after crashing into a seamount in 2006.   The sub was doing “required training dives” in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, between Vancouver Island […]

Baby Orcas Raise Hopes, Highlight Concerns

February 19, 2009

Ken Balcomb, who monitors local populations for NOAA, has spotted two baby orcas off Vancouver Island, a splash of good news for the Puget Sound orca population, which has been falling in recent years. My first reaction, though, was a realization that these young ones will—by virtue of their small bodies and fresh auditory systems—be […]

Orcas Avoid Mid-frequency Sonar Signals, but not LFAS; Herring Unaffected

June 22, 2008

Kvadsheim, Benders, Miller, Doksaeter, Knudsen, Tyack, Nordlund, Lam, Samarra, Kleivane, Godo. Herring (slid), killer whales (spekknogger) and sonar – the 3S-2006 cruise report with preliminary results. Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI). 30 April 2007  This paper reports preliminary results from an ambitious multi-national Controlled Exposure Experiment using acoustic D-tags, which allow researchers to record received […]

Shipping, conservation expand in the Arctic

August 29, 2017

The Arctic is one of the last expanses of the world ocean that has escaped the increasing din of shipping traffic over the past fifty years, but this respite may soon be ending.  China and Russia are rapidly ramping up plans to take advantage of retreating sea ice along the northern coast of Siberia, opening up a new […]

Good news and bad news on BC shipping traffic

December 30, 2016

In the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas, a northern pipeline was rejected and a southern one approved; meanwhile, ongoing research aims to identify the noisiest ships and help inform new regulations that could reduce overall noise levels.

New paper pinpoints “opportunity sites” for acoustic habitat protection near proposed oil sands shipping route

October 8, 2015

AEI lay summary of Rob Williams, Christine Erbe, Erin Ashe, Christopher Clark. Quiet(er) marine protected areas. Marine Pollution Bulletin (2015), j.marpolbul.2015.09.012  View or download paper online Over the past decade or so, concern about ocean noise has expanded from its initial focus injuries and deaths caused by periodic loud events, such as sonar or seismic surveys.  Many researchers […]

FAA spurns opportunity for quiet area protection in traffic pattern updates

June 30, 2015

A new Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) effort to modernize air traffic flow around major cities is ignoring the chance to do slight re-routing that would minimize air traffic over dwindling areas of natural quiet.  The FAA is in the midst of a multi-year process to update the traffic patterns in and out of airports in 17 metropolitan areas.  Each “metroplex” […]