Northwest Seaport Alliance gathers diverse maritime interests to protect endangered orcas by reducing ship noise
The Northwest Seaport Alliance, Port of Seattle, Port of Tacoma, Washington State Ferries, NOAA, and the Puget Sound Partnership co-convened a workshop of a broad range of experts and interests to identify ways to reduce underwater noise in effort to support recovery of the endangered population of Southern Resident killer whales. Underwater noise can be harmful to Southern Resident orcas because it impedes their ability to use sonar to hunt prey and communicate.
The workshop was held at the Bell Harbor Conference Center on Thursday, Oct. 3 and was attended by state, federal, tribal and Canadian government representatives, researchers, natural resource agencies, whale conservation groups and representatives of the maritime industry. The goal of the workshop was to explore the possibility of establishing a program to reduce the exposure of our endangered orca to ship noise such as ECHO established by the Port of Vancouver, British Columbia.
Gov. Inslee’s Southern Resident Orca Task Force issued their Task Force Report and Recommendations on Nov. 16, 2018. Thursday’s underwater noise workshop marks an important step in implementing Recommendation #22, which specifies that Washington State should establish a program like ECHO, which was created by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority in 2014. ECHO has been successful in studying underwater vessel noise and implementing voluntary measures to achieve significant reductions.
Specifically, Recommendation 22 includes:
Create a program similar to Port of Vancouver’s Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation program (ECHO) for Washington State, including participation by ports, whale watching operators, private vessel operators and tribal governments as desired.
Coordinate with the ECHO Program on transboundary efforts to reduce noise impacts to Southern Residents. Provide funding to complete an underwater acoustic monitoring network for Puget Sound, filling in gaps — such as on South San Juan Island — and supporting acoustic and visual mapping to improve the ability to identify when and where Southern Resident orcas are present.
This workshop has started an extended outreach process to tribes, government agencies, and other stakeholder groups. Areas of focus included acoustic monitoring, real time notification of orca presence to mariners, vessel operations, and technology and innovation. From these discussions, the goal is to have necessary agreements in place by the middle of 2020.
About The Northwest Seaport Alliance
The Northwest Seaport Alliance is a marine cargo operating partnership of the ports of Seattle and Tacoma. Combined, the ports are the fourth-largest container gateway in North America. Regional marine cargo facilities also are a major center for bulk, breakbulk, project/heavy-lift cargoes, automobiles and trucks.