Oct 31, 2022 - News

Slowing down ships to help killer whales

Illustration of sea creatures swimming past a yellow "Quiet Please" sign.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

A trial is underway to see if reducing the speed of large ships in Puget Sound can help protect the endangered southern resident killer whale, also known as orcas.

Driving the news: The voluntary slowdown, aimed at decreasing underwater noise, is the first of its kind, according to Quiet Sound, a collaboration among scientists, government agencies, the shipping industry, the U.S. military and tribal groups.

Why it matters: Only 73 southern resident killer whales remain, grouped in three matriarchal social units, the J, K and L pods.

  • The ability of the killer whales to navigate, communicate and hunt for salmon in Admiralty Inlet and north Puget Sound is threatened by underwater noise pollution caused by passing vessels, according to Quiet Sound.

Details: The noise-reducing effort, which began last week and will continue through Dec. 22, aims to create 20 nautical miles of quieter whale habitat by encouraging vessel operators to reduce speed in designated areas by 30-50% when feasible and safe.

  • Information from Ocean Wise, Orca Network, Acartia, Conserve.io and members of the public who report sightings, as well as whale presence data recorded using the WhaleReport Alert System (WRAS), is reported to mariners in real time.
  • Quiet Sound is using underwater microphones to monitor noise levels during and after the slowdown to determine the effectiveness of the trial.
  • Early data from the trial will be released Dec. 9.

Flashback: Puget Sound’s whales made news internationally in 2018 when grieving mother Tahlequah, also known as J35, carried her dead baby calf on her head for 17 days over thousands of miles.

What they’re saying: “The shipping industry is becoming more aware of the impacts on whales of shipping and undersea noise,” Puget Sound Pilots president Ivan Carlson said.

  • “We want to continue to make the Puget Sound a place where southern resident killer whales thrive and safely return for years to come,” said Quiet Sound program director Rachel Aronson.

Want to help? Members of the public can help by reporting whale sightings through the Orca Network, the WhaleReport app (on Apple and Android) or the Whale Alert app (on Apple and Android).

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