Big Ships In North Puget Sound To Slow Down For The Safety Of Fish-Eating Orcas

Big vessels leaving and entering Puget Sound have been asked to purposely slow down to eliminate underwater noise this fall to aid the Pacific Northwest’s endangered orcas.

Northwest News Network reported that Washington State is reportedly importing the voluntary slowdown from British Columbia for container vessels, tankers, cruise vessels, freighters, and car carriers that come from the Canadian province.

The planned slowdown is supposed to kick-start from 24 October to 22 Dece. It is expected to cover shipping lanes from the Admiralty Inlet by Port Townsend south to Mukilteo and Kingston.

As large vessels slow their speed, they lower the amount of underwater noise they create, and less underwater noise indicates improved habitat for endangered Southern Resident killer whales, mentioned Rachel Aronson, the director of Quiet Sound. This comparatively new and government-funded assignment had organized the slowdown trial.

Fish-Eating Orcas
Image for representation purposes only.

Aronson said that the request would be a 30–50% slowdown over 20 nm for most. She further estimated that participating could add between 10 minutes to an hour of ships’ travel time, based on the usual speed.

Aronson said the geographic area and periods for the trial slowdown had been selected accordingly, as the orcas are known to travel into Puget Sound at that time. That’s when they chase salmon runs.

The total population of resident killer whales in the waters of southwestern British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest has lowered to 73.

Orcas typically use sound — even echolocation — to hunt for food and orient and communicate. Ship noise can mask whale calls, effectively and efficiently blinding the mammals.

American and Canadian government agencies have identified acoustic and physical disturbances as one of the critical threats to the survival of the killer whales that survive on other fishes, along with the lack of water and prey pollution.

Aronson mentioned that a critical constituency to win over was the Puget Sound Pilots, who board foreign vessels and guide them in and out of Puget Sound ports.

They are supportive of the suggested initiative and are very interested to learn if the steps taken may benefit the whales, said the executive director of Puget Sound Pilots, Charles Costanzo.

They plan on notifying piloted vessels of the recommended slow down and make sure that vessels are aware of expectations when they encounter whales.

References: MyNorthwest, Business Insider India 

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