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Port Gathers Diverse Maritime Interests to Protect Endangered Orcas by Reducing Ship Noise

Goal is to carry on governor’s Orca Task Force Recommendation #22
October 7, 2019

Orca Noise Task Force Logo Soup

SEATTLE—The Port of Seattle, Port of Tacoma, Northwest Seaport Alliance, Washington State Ferries, NOAA, and the Puget Sound Partnership co-convened a workshop of a broad range of experts and interests to identify ways to reduce underwater noise in an effort to support a recovery of the endangered population of Southern Resident killer whales. Underwater noise can be harmful to Southern Resident orcas because it impedes their ability to use sonar to hunt prey and communicate.

The workshop was held at the Bell Harbor Conference Center on Thursday, October 3 and was attended by state, federal, tribal and Canadian government representatives, researchers, natural resource agencies, whale conservation groups and representatives of the maritime industry. The goal of the workshop was to explore the possibility of establishing a program to reduce the exposure of our endangered orca to ship noise such as ECHO established by the Port of Vancouver, BC.

“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.”

Port of Seattle Commissioner Fred Felleman, a champion of the cause, speaks to attendees at the workshop.
Port of Seattle Commissioner Fred Felleman, a champion of the cause, speaks to attendees at the workshop, October 3, 2019.

Port of Tacoma Commissioner John McCarthy addresses workshop attendees.
Port of Tacoma Commissioner John McCarthy addresses workshop attendees.

“While the Northwest Seaport Alliance has seen steady increases in container cargo volume over the last decade, there are actually fewer ships calling at our gateway now than in the past. This is because vessels have gotten larger and can carry more cargo per trip, which reduces ship traffic,” said Port of Tacoma Commissioner and Managing Member of The Northwest Seaport Alliance John McCarthy. “We want to do our part to help the species recover in Puget Sound.”

“This workshop was a tremendous success, providing a broad sense of shared responsibility, collaboration, and commitment to help the whales,” said Scott Veirs, coordinator of Orcasound.net, a cooperative effort of 12 Washington based organizations that monitor orca habitat with underwater microphones. “We must use both visual and acoustic means to track the whales if we are to reduce the impacts of vessel noise and advance the whales’ recovery.”

Leonard Forsman, Chair of the Suquamish Tribe, speaks to the participants at the workshop.
Leonard Forsman, Chair of the Suquamish Tribe, speaks to participants at the workshop.

“We had very productive discussions about the work that needs to get done as well as next steps,” said Todd Hass of the Puget Sound Partnership.

“This was a great example of people putting aside their differences and working towards a common goal,” said Kevin Bartoy, Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability Program Manager for Washington State Ferries. “It exceeded my expectations.”

“Working together with Port of Seattle and our other partners to make significant progress on Recommendation 22 is very heartening. We’re looking forward to the next steps,” said Lynne Barre, Branch Chief, NOAA Protected Resources Division. 

To hear orcas, see images, or access any media presentations, click here and here.

Governor Inslee’s Southern Resident Orca Task Force issued their Task Force Report and Recommendations on November 16, 2018. Thursday’s underwater noise workshop marks an important step in implementing Recommendation #22, which specifies that Washington State should establish a program like ECHO, which was created by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority in 2014. ECHO has been successful in studying underwater vessel noise and implementing voluntary measures to achieve significant reductions.

Specifically, Recommendation 22 includes:

Participants listen at the October 3 meeting of a workshop

  • Creating a program similar to Port of Vancouver’s Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation program (ECHO) for Washington State, including participation by ports, whale watching operators, private vessel operators, and tribal governments as desired.
  • Coordinating with the ECHO Program on transboundary efforts to reduce noise impacts to Southern Residents. Provide funding to complete an underwater acoustic monitoring network for Puget Sound, filling in gaps—such as on South San Juan Island—and supporting acoustic and visual mapping to improve the ability to identify when and where Southern Resident orcas are present.

This workshop has started an extended outreach process to tribes, government agencies, and other stakeholder groups. Areas of focus included acoustic monitoring, real-time notification of orca presence to mariners, vessel operations, and technology and innovation. From these discussions, the goal is to have the necessary agreements in place by the middle of 2020.

Contact

Peter McGraw | Maritime Media Officer | Port of Seattle
(206) 787-3446 | mcgraw.p@portseattle.org

Chad Bowechop of the Makah Tribe contributes his thoughts during the workshop.
Chad Bowechop of the Makah Tribe contributes his thoughts during the workshop.

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