British Columbia

$9.5M underwater listening station to monitor Salish Sea as part of federal whale initiative

Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced on Thursday that $9.5 million of the previously announced $167.4 million Whales Initiative will go toward an underwater listening station in Boundary Pass, near Saturna Island.

Hydrophones to be installed near Saturna Island intended to 'support recovery of whale populations'

The federal government plans to fund a $9.5 million underwater listening station in Boundary Pass to help support the southern resident killer whales. (Dave Ellifrit/Center for Whale Research)

Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau spent some of his time in Vancouver on Thursday behind a podium touting a new $9.5 million underwater listening station.

The new hydrophones will be installed in Boundary Pass near Saturna Island, with the goal of monitoring the underwater noise that endangered southern resident killer whales are regularly subjected to.

Minister of Transport Marc Garneau speaks to media in Vancouver on Thursday. Garneau announced details of a new underwater listening station to monitor shipping noise in the Salish Sea. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"Marine noise levels can affect killer whales' ability to hunt and communicate," said Garneau, adding that the new listening station will detect and measure vessel noise, marine mammal data and ambient noise data.

But the announcement wasn't exactly new. In June, the federal government announced its $167.4 million 'Whales Initiative,' and the project detailed on Thursday is included in that plan.

Christianne Wilhelmson, executive director of the conservation group, Georgia Strait Alliance, had a mixed reaction to the Boundary Pass listening station project.

"We're all for research, but basically this won't change anything for the orcas when they return in May," said Wilhelmson. "Their environment will still be noisy. We still don't have targets — we don't know how quiet we want the Salish Sea to be."

She wants to see more action on protecting chinook salmon habitat, which would benefit orcas. Wilhelmson also wanted to see a vessel speed trial in Haro Strait made permanent.

"There have been several announcements over the past many months about hydrophones. It's a good thing, having infrastructure in place so we can know where the orcas are, so we can learn more about them, particularly in the area where [vessel] slow-downs have been trialled," said Wilhelmson.

Transportation Minister Marc Garneau speaks to Lance Barrett-Lennard, director of marine mammal research at Oceanwise. Barrett-Lennard had just demonstrated a hydrophone in Vancouver's busy port, showing Garneau the amount of noise pollution underwater. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

But she said Garneau's announcement on Thursday was "not an announcement of action."

Garneau said in his remarks that the voluntary ship slow-down trial in the Haro Strait worked very well, and it would be continued in the future. That trial is now over for the year, as the southern resident killer whales have left the area.


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Rafferty Baker is CBC Vancouver's mobile journalist. Follow him @raffertybaker