British Columbia

Coast guard throws technology behind protecting southern resident killer whales

The newly announced Marine Mammal Desk will use radar and real-time vessel tracking to keep ships away from whales.

Marine Mammal Desk will use radar and real-time vessel tracking to keep ships and whales apart

The Canadian Coast Guard's new Marine Mammal Desk aims to keep ships away from whales off B.C.'s coast. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

The Canadian Coast Guard is throwing technology behind an effort to better protect southern resident killer whales and other cetaceans in B.C. waters from ship traffic, vessel strikes and entanglements.

In a release, Fisheries and Oceans Canada says a "first of its kind" marine mammal desk will work to "report whale sightings in real time and advise vessel traffic by providing enhanced situational awareness of the activities of endangered southern resident killer whales and other cetaceans, such as humpback and grey whales."

Located within coast guard operations in Sidney, B.C., the desk has been up and running since late October 2020 and is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Five officers have received specialized training to run the operation.

"We're really excited about it," said Scott Rear, who works in communications and traffic services with the Canadian Coast Guard. 

"We're hoping in the spring when vessel traffic increases significantly as well as when we see the return of more cetaceans, we'll have the procedures and policies more polished than they are right now." 

According to the release, the desk will "leverage modern technologies including radar and automatic identification systems (AIS) and real-time vessel movement information." 

It will also monitor no-go zones for boats that have been put in place to give sanctuary to southern resident killer whales, and will take in reports of whale sightings and then forward them to marine enforcement agencies.

"The southern resident killer whale is an icon of our Pacific coast, and we want to see its population protected and revived for generations to come," said Bernadette Jordan, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.

The release said the desk is part of the Canada Energy Regulator's recommendations on the Trans Mountain Expansion Project to help safeguard the whales by offsetting the risk of increased underwater noise and vessel strikes.


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