NW Seaport Alliance Joins Underwater Noise Partnership

Image courtesy Orcasound

Published Oct 10, 2019 12:46 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Northwest Seaport Alliance is working with the Port of Seattle, Port of Tacoma, Washington State Ferries, NOAA, and the Puget Sound Partnership to find ways to reduce underwater noise - a key factor in the continued survival of Southern Resident orcas, the non-migratory population that inhabits the Salish Sea.

Underwater noise hinders killer whales' ability to find food and communicate. The competing seaport of Vancouver, British Columbia has already established a voluntary noise reduction program, and NWSA and other stakeholders gathered at a conference October 3 to look at ways to take up similar measures. 

“It was heartening to have such a broad range of expertise in the same room committed to tackling the critical issue of orca survival in the Salish Sea,” said Port of Seattle Commissioner and Northwest Seaport Alliance Managing Member, Fred Felleman, who studied killer whales in graduate school and championed the workshop. “As we know from the study of cooperative hunters such as wolves, lions and orcas, we can accomplish great things when we work together, and the recovery of our iconic orca hinges on our collaboration.”

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee has convened a task force on Southern Resident killer whales, and it has recommended setting up an program to study and reduce underwater noise from shipping in the Puget Sound. The recommendation highlights the success of Port of Vancouver's effort, and it recommends that Washington authorities coordinate with their Canadian counterparts to reduce noise impacts across the range of the Southern Resident population. Merchant vessels are the most intense source of underwater noise in the region.

The workshop marks the start of an outreach process to coordinate with stakeholders, including tribes, agencies and ports. Its initial focus includes underwater acoustic monitoring for tracking orca populations and determining when and where they are present. This could ultimately enable real-time notifications of orca presence for vessel operators. The objective is to have cooperative agreements between stakeholders in place by mid-2020.