Editors pick

Ferries and ecotourism impact killer whales more than oil tankers

Vancouver Sun columnist Licia Corbella notes that oil tanker traffic is not a big problem, creating just one per cent of the noise.

Recommended reading from the February 26 Vancouver Sun: “Corbella: B.C. ferries and whale-watching boats harm killer whales much more than oil tankers”.

A bit of background:

When the federal court of appeal quashed the approval of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMEP) in August 2018, one of the reasons cited was the fact that the environmental impacts of increased tanker traffic was not considered within the scope of the National Energy Board’s (NEB) review. The NEB recently remedied this identified flaw with a 674-page report and recommendations addressing those potential impacts, particularly on an at-risk population of killer whales living in the coastal waters of southwestern British Columbia.

There is a pod of about 74 killer whales living in the region. Since the 1990s, the population of this pod has been declining, and it is believed that noise from increasing marine traffic may be a contributing factor. Killer whales use echolocation (i.e., sound waves) to forage for food. Noise in the environment, such as from the motors of marine vessels, can interfere with the whales’ ability to echolocate.

Noise pollution from ferries and whale watching boats have a much larger impact on killer whales than oil tankers: NEB report.

The NEB report upholds its approval of TMEP. The impacts of increased oil tanker traffic due to exports from TMEP are expected to be a “small fraction of total cumulative effects.” The NEB adds 16 new recommendations to its approval to ensure marine impacts are mitigated. Among the recommendations is the creation of a Marine Mammal Protection Program.

In her column, Licia Corbella highlights some interesting findings from the NEB’s scientific review—findings often overlooked by environmental groups looking to stop TMEP using rhetoric concerning the need to save the killer whales. Corbella notes, “The most significant contributors to the noise pollution that negatively impacts the ability of the whales to hunt and feed are other commercial vehicles — mostly passenger ferries, tug boats, deep-sea fishing vehicles and in the summer, whale-watching boats.”

Commercial whale watching has increased from just a few boats in the 1970s to about 100 boats in 2016. The small outboard vessels often used for whale watching produce higher frequency noise that may “cause a greater reduction in a killer whale’s foraging success than low-frequency (<1 kHz) background noise from commercial shipping.”

She also highlights from the report: “B.C. Ferries account for 52 to 67 per cent of lost foraging time due to noise and tug boats account for 12 to 27 per cent. And, oil tankers make up just one per cent of that lost foraging time.”

Corbella remarks that environmentalists have made little noise regarding the plans to increase B.C. Ferries sailings by 225 a month, even as they suggest the TMEP approval will end up “wiping a species off the planet.”

The NEB report offers solutions-based strategies to minimize impacts, rather than heated rhetoric which ignores the real problem