BC Ferries seeks outside help to cut ship noise for orcas’ sake

Times Colonist

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BC ferries / ship noise
VANCOUVER, BC – September 18: A BC ferry crossing Howe Sound to Sunshine Coast on nice and sunny day. BC ferries is becoming a costly way to get around with no alternative on September 18, 2017 / Shutterstock

BC Ferries is seeking outside help to cut back on underwater noise coming from its ships in order to protect killer whales.

The corporation aims to work with experts as it builds new vessels and look at ways to reduce underwater noise from existing vessels, said spokeswoman Deborah Marshall. Today is the deadline to reply to its request for proposals.

Noise from vessels has long been identified as an issue for orcas, which rely on echolocation to find their prey, navigate and communicate.

Federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Jonathan Wilkinson announced this month three new sanctuaries to help the 75 endangered southern resident killer whales. Protecting the orcas from vessel noise is part of that initiative.

In February, the National Energy Board called on BC Ferries to take steps to reduce underwater noise to help the orcas.

That recommendation came as the board gave conditional endorsement to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which would result in increased tanker traffic off B.C.

Mark Collins, BC Ferries president and chief executive, said last summer that the organization had hired scientists to take measurements of various aspects of noise from its vessels.

“We need to know what we are emitting so we can address it,” he said.

“Each new class of ship we build is generally quieter than the ships before it.”

This is accomplished by such measures as hull design to reduce noise from waves and using different propellors.

Although BC Ferries does not have an in-house expert team for underwater noise, it has accumulated more data than any other commercial fleet in the world, Marshall said.

BC Ferries needs experts to provide guidance in how to diminish ship noise and at the same time keep the vessel performing as needed, she said.

This includes looking at specifications for new vessels, equipment and on-board systems to make sure noise mitigation targets can be reached.

“This is not unlike what we would typically do for new and unique projects — [that is] bring in specialist expertise to assist us get the best results,” Marshall said.