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Maritime industry launches study on impact of vessel noise on whales

2017-07-25

McKeil Marine's Evans Spirit  won the International Bulk Journal's 2016 Ship of the Year Award during the IBJ's Salute to Excellence in the Maritime Bulk Industry gala awards ceremony in London, UK on November 21.
"It's a fantastic way to closeout our 60th anniversary year: having a vessel named after our founder, Evans McKeil, win this prestigious international award," said Steve Fletcher, President and CEO of McKeil Marine.
Acquired by McKeil in 2015, the Evans Spirit is a cargo ship with the shallow draught characters of a tug and barge; however, compared to a tug-and-barge unit, she can transport approximately 40 per cent more cargo about 50 per cent faster on a very similar amount of fuel.  She is in service throughout the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.
Evans Spirit was shortlisted for 2016 Ship of the Year competing with three other vessels: CS Bright, Mitsui OSK Lines, Japan;  Damen Shipyards, Netherlands; and MN Baroque, Swiss Marine, Switzerland. The award is presented to the owner, operator or builder of an outstanding individual bulk ship. Judged on operational efficiency, design innovation, safety and environmental protection, the Evans Spirit was selected as winner. (Photo Paul Beesley).

Fifty-three marine shipping industry organizations, along with Washington State Ferries, have committed to participate in a voluntary study, the first of its kind, to focus on the relationship between slower vessel speeds, underwater noise levels and effects on southern resident killer whales, or orcas, native to waters off Vancouver Island.

Between August 7 and October 6, 2017, the speed of participating vessels will be reduced through the water in Haro Strait, when it is feasible and safe to do so. Haro Strait is located between Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula and San Juan Island and is an important summer feeding area for the endangered southern resident killer whale population. Approximately 900 deep sea vessels will transit Haro Strait during the study period. Latest estimates indicate there are 78 orcas alive today compared with 98 in 1995.

During the research trial, vessels will be asked to navigate over underwater listening stations, also known as hydrophones, at a speed of 11 knots, which is slower than typical deep-sea vessel operating speeds. The hydrophones will monitor ambient and vessel underwater noise, as well as the presence of whales, and automated vessel tracking will be used to monitor vessel speed.

With 100 per cent of the members of shipping associations Chamber of Shipping, Cruise Line International Association Northwest and Canada and Shipping Federation of Canada confirming their intent to participate, the 54 confirmed marine industry participants represent a very significant proportion of large commercial vessel movements through Haro Strait.

 

"Industry's commitment to this voluntary research trial is a clear demonstration of the collective focus we have on ensuring a healthy marine environment, and we greatly appreciate our partners' support," said Robin Silvester, President and CEO of the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority. "We know that impacts to vessel schedules can be costly to the shipping industry, but we also know the more vessels that participate in the trial, the more robust the scientific analysis will be, and the greater the opportunity for trial data to support evidence-based decision making about future vessel noise management measures."

"The path to this trial has been years in the making and is the result of progressive leadership and collaboration inherent in the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority's ECHO Program," said Chamber of Shipping President Robert Lewis-Manning. "Our member companies are serious about supporting solutions that are based in science and this commitment is indicative of new and innovative approaches by a network of First Nations, scientists, researchers, regulators, NGOs, and industry."

Existing scientific evidence indicates that underwater noise from vessels can interfere with killer whale echolocation clicks, calls and whistles, inhibiting the ability to hunt, navigate and communicate. Existing research also suggests that vessels operating at lower speeds typically generate less underwater noise.

"Protecting the southern resident killer whales and other species at risk is a priority for the federal government," said the Honourable Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport. "I applaud these industry leaders for committing to participate in this trial. The data generated by this study will be important information for the government's decision-making process around measures to address vessel noise, and we look forward to seeing the results."

The study is a collaboration, planned and coordinated through the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority-led Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program, in addition to a committee that includes representatives from B.C. Coast Pilots, BC Ferries, the Vancouver-based Chamber of Shipping, Cruise Line International Association North West and Canada, Hapag-Lloyd, Holland America, the Shipping Federation of Canada, the Pacific Pilotage Authority, Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, Washington State Ferries and Transport Canada. (Photo VPA).

 
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