New study maps underwater noise pollution in British Columbia, finds excessive noise levels in critical whale habitats | WWF-Canada

New study maps underwater noise pollution in British Columbia, finds excessive noise levels in critical whale habitats

Posted on 19 October 2012
Cumulative noise map, B.C. coast
© (C)WWF-Canada
Vancouver (Thursday, Oct. 18) - A new study undertaken by researchers from Australia’s Curtin University, JASCO Applied Sciences in Canada, and Scotland’s University of St. Andrews has created the first map of underwater noise levels from shipping traffic on B.C.’s coast.

The map will help managers identify noise exposure levels in critical habitat for whales, dolphins, porpoises and other marine life that depend on sound for their survival.  According to WWF-Canada, who sponsored the study, the map reveals a disturbing pattern.

“Underwater noise pollution from shipping traffic is now a persistent feature of B.C. coastal waters,” says study lead Dr. Christine Erbe, “and an increasing threat to marine mammals that depend on sound to hunt, navigate, find mates and avoid predators.”

Erbe says that while the study shows noise levels are high in the shipping routes leading into the ports of Vancouver, Seattle and Prince Rupert, many quiet ocean spaces still exist on B.C.’s coast – places that could potentially serve as wildlife refuges.

Co-author Dr Rob Williams says that when he started studying whales in the 1990s, ocean noise was treated as an ephemeral nuisance that comes and goes. “Countries now recognize noise as a chronic and persistent feature of the marine environment,” he says. “These new tools allow us to incorporate acoustic habitat quality into our recovery plans for threatened species.”

WWF’s Senior Marine Science Officer Hussein Alidina noted that Canada has not set guidelines for sound exposure levels from chronic sources of noise like shipping in its oceans. “If equivalent recommended European Union guidelines for chronic noise levels were to be applied in B.C, this study would show noise exposure levels exceed guidelines in many places, including critical habitat areas for southern resident orca whales.” he added.

The authors also noted that a substantial business opportunity exists for Canada to lead the way on ocean quieting technologies. According to Williams, “With Canada’s recent investments in military and merchant ship building in Vancouver and Halifax, our country is uniquely poised to build the quiet ships the world will want as noise becomes more actively managed in sensitive marine habitats in Europe and beyond.”

Additional simple measures like go-slow zones in critical whale habitats and designating quiet areas could also reduce noise levels substantially and benefit wildlife.

This study in B.C. waters provides a useful model that could be applied to other parts of the globe to protect the integrity of other quiet ocean spaces like Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and the Arctic from increased shipping noise.

Contact information:
Dr. Christine Erbe, Director, Centre for Marine Science and Technology
Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia
Telephone: +61 8 9266 7543 | email

Dr Rob Williams, Marie Curie Research Fellow, Sea Mammal Research Unit
University of St Andrews, Scotland
Telephone: +44 (0)1334 463617 | email

Hussein Alidina, Senior Officer, Marine Science & Planning,
WWF-Canada, Vancouver, BC Canada
Telephone: +1 604 694 6654 | email
Cumulative noise map, B.C. coast
© (C)WWF-Canada Enlarge