WWF-Canada raising alarm over dangerous delays on Canada’s Ocean Noise Strategy

OceansBeluga WhalesBowhead WhalesNarwhalsNorth Atlantic Right Whales

World Wildlife Fund Canada launches #LessNoise campaign, calls on federal government to finally deliver underwater noise pollution plan

TORONTO – January 29, 2024 – With Canada’s oceans getting louder — causing increasing harm to marine species — the federal government initially committed to release the first draft of its Ocean Noise Strategy in summer 2021. Then by the end of 2022.

Now, as Parliament sits for the first time in 2024, WWF-Canada is urging them to not let another year go by without delivering a strong plan to protect whales, walrus and other sea life from underwater noise pollution.

In the darkness of the underwater world, many species rely on sound to sense their environment, navigate, communicate, find food and mates, and avoid danger. The impacts of intensifying industrialization of the ocean — increasing ship traffic, deafening seismic blasts from oil and gas activities, port expansions and the roar of marine construction — are being documented across marine ecosystems.

Underwater noise pollution can disrupt normal behaviours, impair feeding, mask communication, interfere with echolocation, increase stress levels, and even contribute to fatal ship strikes and strandings of whales.

“Some parts of the ocean are more than 100 times louder than they would be naturally — and with human activity on the ocean continuing to intensify, Canada needs a strong plan to turn down the volume now,” says Hussein Alidina, WWF-Canada’s lead specialist for marine conservation.

“WWF-Canada is calling for not only the release of the delayed Ocean Noise Strategy, but for one strong enough to deliver meaningful, measurable and urgent action that whales and other species impacted by underwater noise pollution desperately need.”

To hit the right note, Canada’s Ocean Noise Strategy should:

  • Establish noise limits for activities we know have a negative effect on soundscapes, such as shipping and oil and gas exploration. They should be informed by biological limits (the volume different species are able to withstand without adverse impacts) and by local and Indigenous knowledge.
  • Take an area-based approach that includes noise reduction targets in regions that are already excessively loud and noise limits in rapidly developing areas, such as the Arctic. Canada should also prioritize safeguarding protected ocean areas and key habitats for at-risk species.
  • Incentivize the development and adoption of quieter technologies while immediately implementing operational measures that can reduce noise such as ship slowdowns in critical habitats.
  • Put in place regulations for ongoing monitoring of noise levels and enforcement of noise limits and reduction targets. Without teeth, it’s unlikely Canada’s Ocean Noise Strategy will help mitigate noise pollution.

How Canadians can help turn down the volume:

Concerned citizens can send an email to their federal MP and the Honourable Diane Lebouthillier, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard with one click at wwf.ca/underwaternoise.

Notes to editors: Visit WWF-Canada’s interactive website to explore what underwater noise pollution sounds like in different parts of the ocean.

A timeline of Canada’s Ocean Noise Strategy commitments:

  • The Government of Canada first sought public input on a proposed framework for its Ocean Noise Strategy from Oct. 14, 2020 – January 2021. (Find our submission here).
  • At that time, the federal government said to expect: “the development of a draft Ocean Noise Strategy for Canada with initial recommendations in summer 2021.”
  • The deadline for the draft Ocean Noise Strategy was later changed to 2022 with “the final strategy expected to be launched in 2023.”
  • As of January 2024, even the draft strategy has yet to be released.

How underwater noise pollution impacts wildlife in Canada’s ocean:

  • Excessive noise can cause vocal beluga whales to become separated from their calves and put endangered North Atlantic right whales at increased risk of fatal ship strikes.
  • Underwater noise pollution has been shown to mask echolocation and communication between the 75 remaining members of the critically endangered southern resident whale population.
  • Relatively quiet waters in northern B.C. are bracing for a massive increase in ship traffic and noise from new liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals. This could have detrimental impacts on orcas, humpback, and fin whales.
  • In the Arctic, where walrus mother and calves recognize each other by voice and bowhead whales sing 24 hours a day in the winter to woo mates, underwater noise levels have doubled in just seven years. As sea ice disappears, so does this physical barrier that once dampened sounds from above the surface.
  • Increasing ship traffic worldwide is more than doubling underwater noise every decade.

For more information, please contact:
Emily Vandermeer, Senior Communications Specialist
[email protected], 519-616-1556

Joshua Ostroff, Senior Manager, Editorial
[email protected]

About World Wildlife Fund Canada
WWF-Canada is committed to equitable and effective conservation actions that restore nature, reverse wildlife loss and fight climate change. We draw on scientific analysis and Indigenous guidance to ensure all our efforts connect to a single goal: a future where wildlife, nature and people thrive. For more information visit wwf.ca.