Scientists seek quiet to save endangered orcas

Increased noise from shipping threatens killer whale population

VANCOUVER — An international group of marine scientists wants the Canadian government to take steps to cut underwater noise in the Salish Sea off the southern coast of British Columbia.

The scientists, including five from B.C. and others from as far away as Australia and the United Kingdom, say increased noise from shipping and other industries threatens the critically endangered southern resident killer whale population.

In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his ministers of fisheries, environment and transport, the scientists urge the adoption of targets to reduce shipping noise by three decibels over the next decade and 10 decibels within 30 years.

Industrial noise has been linked to reduced foraging among southern resident orcas, which the scientists say already have difficulty finding enough salmon, their main food source.

The letter says constant vessel noise also masks or alters the calls of killer whales, affecting communication and inducing chronic stress, while the continuous hum is also associated with harm to fish and invertebrates of the inland waters of the south coast.

As of January, the scientists say there were only 78 southern resident killer whales and, because of noise, toxic contamination and other challenges, their long-term survival is threatened, unless a plan is developed to improve and restore conditions in the Salish Sea.

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