Janie Wray and Hermann Meuter: Tuning in to the underwater world

One of the great profiles from our 2012 Annual Report. For more on this and other great conservation stories, visit wwf.ca/annualreport.
Amid the soaring cedar forests and rocky shorelines overlooking B.C.’s Squally and Whale Channel sits Cetacea Lab. Researchers Janie Wray and Hermann Meuter established this remote research station in the heart of the Great Bear region more than a decade ago.

Researchers  Hermann Meuter and Janie Wray.

Their goal now: to designate this pristine area as critical habitat for whales to help ensure their lifelong protection.
“It’s very hard to describe the connection that we have to whales because it is so sacred,” says Wray. “They’re so intelligent and unique. I cannot imagine a planet without their presence.”
The lab uses submerged hydrophones to tracks orcas, humpbacks, and fin whales 24 hours a day, building a comprehensive library of sounds. Their ear on the ocean has made Wray and Meuter realize just how dependent whales are on sound to find their prey and communicate with one another. High levels of ambient noise force whales to remain quiet or expend more energy trying to communicate over the din.
Since 2004, both fin and humpback whale populations have resurged in the peaceful refuge around Cetacea Lab. “We believe that they are coming back to these waters because it’s still so quiet,” Wray explains. “They can actually communicate without being constantly interrupted by boat noise.”
What worries Wray and Meuter are a slate of industry proposals that would drastically increase tanker traffic throughout the region. One project alone would see 220 tankers a year travelling through Squally Channel.
That is why Cetacea Lab has been working with WWF to put this issue on the radar. “We’ve ignored underwater ambient noise for far too long,” says Wray. For whales to keep singing, that has to change.