VICTORIA ECOTOURISM COMPANY FIRST TO PARTICIPATE IN “SOUND FOOTPRINT” PROJECT
Victoria’s Eagle Wing Tours has become the first marine ecotourism company in the region to voluntarily have its boat fleet tested for noise emission levels.
The goal of the pilot project, which is being conducted by JASCO Applied Sciences in collaboration with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), is to investigate the acoustic signatures, or “sound footprints” of whale watching and small pleasure vessels in the Salish Sea.
The project is being managed by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority-led ECHO program, which seeks to manage the impact of shipping noise on marine mammals in the Salish Sea, especially on the iconic southern resident killer whales (SRKWs). This critically endangered population is steadily sliding toward extinction, with only 76 remaining today.
“Although by far the biggest factor impeding the recovery of these whales is a chronic lack of chinook salmon, another factor identified by DFO is the effect of vessels and associated noise,” says Brett Soberg, co-owner of Eagle Wing Tours. “Finding out whether our boats have any noise issues, and resolving them if they do, is critical so that we can shift the conversation back where it belongs—to improving salmon stocks and habitat.”
This summer, JASCO deployed two underwater listening stations on the seafloor of Haro Strait and set them to continuously record from July to October. Eagle Wing offered all of its boats for testing at the start of the trial.
“Eagle Wing took great initiative in having underwater noise emission measurements made on all of their vessels,” says David Hannay, chief science officer at JASCO. “The company’s commitment to understanding the noise footprints of their vessels is essential to finding ways to reduce noise exposures to the marine mammals so important to us all.
“The information obtained here will help identify vessel and engine types that have lower emissions, so that refits and new vessel choices can be made to quiet the marine environment,” adds Hannay.
Each Eagle Wing vessel was recorded at three pre-determined speeds, which were based on the slowest speed the vessels would typically operate at around the whales, the speed recommended when transiting within a quarter mile of the whales, and their average cruising speed.
Eagle Wing and the other 31 member companies of the Pacific Whale Watch Association follow the “Be Whale Wise” guidelines which detail a series of best practices for commercial whalewatch operators—and all other small vessels—to use in the vicinity of whales. The guidelines are endorsed by government agencies in the US and Canada, including DFO.
Research shows that vessel speed is the most important predictor of noise levels received by killer whales. Additional factors may include propeller type, engine horsepower and age, machinery noise and hull characteristics.
The Eagle Wing results are expected in the next few weeks. Soberg says that the company is committed to making engine, propeller, hull or paint design adjustments if needed. He’d like to see other companies follow suit, and adds that if the technology was available year-round, it would be ideal to test boats routinely at the beginning and end of each whale watch season.
“This would be a valuable tool to proactively monitor the condition of the whale watch fleet, leading to better maintenance and less noise,” says Soberg. “It’s important for all of us in the industry to have a healthy, viable business, but not at the expense of the animals that are at the centre of this business.
“Anything we can do to improve, mitigate and soften our footprint on the water benefits everyone and everything.”
Eagle Wing Tours is an award-winning Victoria-based ecotourism company offering year-round whale and wildlife watching tours to more than 30,000 people a year. Its mission is to protect whales and other marine wildlife species through education, support of conservation initiatives and by running an environmentally responsible business. Eagle Wing has been Victoria’s #1-ranked whalewatching company on Trip Advisor since 2007. For more information on its industry-leading sustainability initiatives visit https://www.eaglewingtours.com/