Coast Guard’s New Tech Protects Whales

By Ben Hamill - January 18 2021

Coast Guard’s New Tech Protects Whales

Radar and real-time vessel tracking technology are proving useful tools in an intensified effort to protect British Columbia’s southern resident killer whales from the dangers of vessel strikes, entanglements and marine traffic. The technology, coupled with a first-ever marine mammal desk located in Sidney, B.C., which desk has been operational since last year October and is staffed round-the-clock, is showing a great deal of promise in the protection of killer whales and other cetacean mammals.

According to information released by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the technology and marine mammal desk work together by utilising whale sighting information in real time and alerting marine vessels by providing to those vessels’ information about the location and activities of cetaceans, including killer whales, grey whales, and humpbacks. The desk is controlled by local coast guard operations and is run by five coast guard officers who have all received the necessary training for running the specialised project. 

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Preparing For Spring Traffic

The use of real-time vessel tracking technology by means of radar holds many exciting possibilities, said Scott Rear, who specialises in marine traffic services with the Canadian Coast Guard. The hope, said Rear, is that by the time the spring arrives, during which time of the year marine traffic increases drastically, the system will be fine-tuned and operationally polished.

In addition to making use of modern technologies such as radar and Automatic Identification Systems (AIS), the desk will monitor those so-called no-go zones put into place for boats in an effort to provide a safe haven for southern resident killer whales. Reports of sightings will be forwarded to local marine enforcement agencies for further action.

Protecting A True Icon

According to information provided as part of the press release, the desk is a result of the Canada Energy Regulator’s recommendations on the Trans Mountain Expansion Project. A significant goal of the project is to help physically protect resident killer whales and other marine life by managing the risks posed to their safety by potential vessel strikes and a significant increase in underwater noise.

The southern resident whale, especially, is a true representation of Canada’s Pacific coast, said Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard, Bernadette Jordan. The goal is to see the cetacean preserved for many more future generations to come, said Jordan.

A 2020 UBC study found that ship strikes are a leading cause of death for B.C.’s southern resident killer whales.

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