Making some noise to have whales heard

Orca (killer) whales in Vancouver’s Salish Sea are drowning in manmade noise. Here’s how WWF staff are working to provide some respite, and how you can easily become a supporter of this work by choosing the WWF-Canada MasterCard® credit card from BMO®.
Imagine you’re at a large event with members of your family. You realize you’ve lost sight of them and call their names. Imagine your frustration and stress at finding your voice lost among a cacophony of noise. Can you imagine how much more stressful this might be if the lights simultaneously went out? This is the situation orca whales face on a daily basis in the Salish Sea – the busy waterway between Vancouver and Vancouver Island.

Killer whale, British Columbia, Canada
A southern resident Killer whale (Orcinus orca) leaping out of the waters of Haro Strait, British Columbia, Canada. © Natalie Bowes / WWF-Canada

Ships and boats are the dominant source of underwater noise in the Salish Sea and they create an ‘acoustic smog’ that makes life more difficult for the endangered population of orca whales that inhabit this area.
Toothed whales like orcas strongly rely on sound for echolocation; finding food and communicating with each other. Sound is the primary way in which these whales sense their environment, much like most people use their eyesight.
Scientists estimate that in the Salish Sea, over 80 per cent of the time, the most significant source of noise in the hearing range of orca whales is from ships. This reduces the space over which whales can communicate by approximately 50 per cent, affecting their ability to sense their surroundings and find food. Amid growing pressure and ship traffic, WWF is on-the-ground (or should we say in-the-sea) working to try to create some reprieve for these whales.
Close up of three southern resident Killer whales (Orcinus orca) moving through the waters at Active Pass. © Natalie Bowes / WWF-Canada
Close up of three southern resident Killer whales (Orcinus orca) moving through the waters at Active Pass. © Natalie Bowes / WWF-Canada

Hussein Alidina, WWF-Canada’s senior specialist in ocean conservation, is doing what he can to create some quiet for this at-risk species. WWF is concerned about how development projects – like the proposed Kinder Morgan and trans-mountain pipeline expansion and the development of an additional container terminal in the Port of Vancouver could more than double the shipping traffic in these waters. How would this already barraged orca population of just 81 individuals cope?
“These orcas are already struggling to survive in their natural habitat that has now become one of the busiest working places in Canada,” says Hussein. “With shipping continuing to grow here, our society must consider nature’s limits and the capacity of the Salish Sea to accommodate more. The fate of these whales depend on it.”
With the looming prospect of increased shipping traffic, WWF is working with a variety of partners including the Port of Vancouver, shipping industry programs, and scientists to find ways to reduce the threats of underwater noise to these orcas. Together we must finds ways to drastically reduce manmade noise in the Salish Sea.
While Hussein is busy helping the orca whales in the Salish Sea, there is a surprisingly easy way for you to help him, and projects like this. The BMO WWF-Canada MasterCard is an affinity credit card that helps WWF-Canada create solutions to the most serious conservation challenges facing our planet – at no additional cost to you. Every time you make a purchase with the card, a percentage of the dollar value of the transaction goes directly to WWF. Find out more here.
Establishing some reprieve for the Salish Sea orcas is an initiative that WWF is committed to seeing through to completion. We won’t rest until the orcas do. We hope you consider becoming a supporter of this and other projects for species by choosing the BMO® WWF-Canada MasterCard® credit card.