Protecting endangered whales through scientific research: Whale Detection and Avoidance and Marine Environmental Quality initiatives

Backgrounder

The Government of Canada is deeply committed to protecting Canada’s endangered whales.

The Whale Detection and Avoidance initiative, under Canada’s Oceans Protection Plan, is helping to protect whales in Canadian waters. This $9.1 million initiative is supporting the development and testing of various technologies able to detect the presence of whales in near real-time. These technologies include underwater microphones on fixed and mobile platforms, such as underwater gliders, and infra-red cameras. The ability to capture up-to-date information on whale presence could help alert mariners to the presence of whales in a particular area and reduce the risk of collisions.

Through the $26.6 million Marine Environmental Quality (MEQ) initiative, also part of the Oceans Protection Plan, Fisheries and Oceans Canada researchers are working with partners to conduct research that will help to better understand the impact of shipping-related noise on marine mammals, specifically the endangered St. Lawrence Estuary Beluga, North Atlantic Right Whale and Southern Resident Killer Whale.

These and other science-related initiatives are drawing on the knowledge and expertise of experts from around the globe to help us better understand the pressures faced by our at-risk  marine mammals and help inform the development and implementation of effective management and protection measures. The Government of Canada is pleased to announce nearly $3 million in funding for the following projects.

Oceans Protection Plan: Whale Detection and Avoidance Initiative

 

Description

Timeframe

Investment

 

Title: North Atlantic Right Whale Survey in Jacques Cartier Passage
Project partner: Mingan Island Cetacean Study (Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan, QC)
Project summary: This two-year project will support North Atlantic Right Whale vessel-based surveys from June to September 2018 and 2019 in the Jacques Cartier Passage, northwest of Anticosti Island, Quebec. Information on sightings, including photos, date, time, position and number of whales observed, will be uploaded on a daily basis onto WhaleMap (whalemap.ocean.dal.ca/WhaleMap). This interactive mapping tool, developed by Dalhousie University, displays recent known locations of North Atlantic Right Whales as they travel in Canadian waters.

2018 – 20

$91,367

 

Title: Utilizing sighting reports from a network of citizen scientists to reduce vessel disturbance and strike risk to Southern Resident Killer Whales and other cetaceans
Project partner: Ocean Wise Conservation Association (Vancouver, BC)
Project summary: This one-year project will support the expansion of the British Columbia Cetacean Sightings Network and the continued development and testing of their Whale Report Alert System (wildwhales.org/wras), an online application that alerts specific groups, such as large commercial vessel operators, of the presence of whales in their vicinity. This awareness could help better enable vessels to undertake voluntary adaptive mitigation measures, such as slowing down or altering course, to reduce the risk of collision and disturbance.

2019 – 20

$229,885

 

Title: Developing a real-time forecasting system for Southern Resident Killer Whales
Project partner: Simon Fraser University (Burnaby, BC)
Project summary: This three-year project will support the development of a real-time Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW) movement forecast tool for ship alerting purposes. The project will use a marine animal movement model along with real-time and archival SRKW sightings and acoustic detections to provide an estimate of current SRKW pod locations and help predict their direction of movement.

2019 – 22

$617,435

 

Title: Development of vessel-based infra-red camera whale detection system for ship-strike mitigation
Project partner: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (Woods Hole, Massachusetts)
Project summary: This one-year project will support the development of a transportable and cost-effective vessel-based infrared camera whale detection system that could detect whale blows in near-real time, including those of the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale.

2019 – 20

$196,589

 

Title: Evaluation of the use of thermal imaging for whale detection in Canadian waters to study killer whale presence
Project partner: University of Erlangen–Nuremberg (Germany)
Project summary: This two year project will support the testing of two land-based infrared camera whale detection systems at Sturdies Bay ferry terminal in British Columbia. This project will test the feasibility of such systems to detect the presence of whales in BC waters in near-real time, including the Southern Resident Killer Whale.

2018 – 2020

$169,124

 
Oceans Protection Plan: Marine Environmental Quality initiative

 

Description

Timeframe

Investment

Title: Big data analysis and management of Canadian marine acoustic data sets
Project partner: Dalhousie University (Halifax, NS)
Project summary: This three-year project is supporting important collaboration between underwater acoustics researchers, computer scientists and data managers to drive innovation related to the analysis and management of large underwater noise data sets.

2018 – 21

$305,750

Title: Passive acoustic monitoring in the Outer Bay of Fundy and assessment of communication space loss in North Atlantic Right Whales
Project partner: Eastern Charlotte Waterways (Blacks Harbour, NB)
Project summary: This four-year project is expanding acoustic monitoring in the Outer Bay of Fundy to better understand the impact of underwater noise on North Atlantic Right Whales, particularly how it impacts their ability to communicate with each other.

2018 – 22

$235,850

Title: Strengthening efforts to incorporate passive acoustic monitoring into North Atlantic Right Whale habitat, population models and other risk assessment tools
Project partner: Ocean Research & Conservation Association (ORCA) (Vancouver, BC)
Project summary: This three-year project will develop approaches for incorporating underwater noise data into existing population viability analyses, which are used to determine the probability of a population going extinct in a specific timeframe, and to include whale detections from passive acoustic monitoring in species distribution models, which are used to predict the distribution of a species in a specific area. These new acoustic approaches will help advance research on population-level impacts of underwater noise on the North Atlantic Right Whale.

2018 – 2021

$221,848

Title: Evaluation of foraging behavior of Southern Resident Killer Whales to assess impacts of anthropogenic disturbance
Project partner: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (United States)
Project summary: This four-year project will assess Southern Resident Killer Whale behaviour, including foraging, in relation to noise exposure levels. This project is part of a larger US-Canada study to identify differences in the acoustic environment and foraging activity of the Northern Resident Killer Whale, whose population has been increasing over the past decade, and the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale, whose population is currently declining.

2018 – 2022

$575,091

North Atlantic Right Whale Grant to Mingan Island Cetacean Study

 

Description

Timeframe

Investment

Title: Class Grant to Mingan Island Cetacean Study
Project partner: Mingan Island Cetacean Study (Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan, QC)
Project summary: This investment in Mingan Island Cetacean Study (MICS), through Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Class Grants and Contributions program, is supporting upgrades to MICS’s field research equipment, which is now being used to carry out more efficient boat-based research, including monitoring and research activities for the North Atlantic Right Whale in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The data gathered and analyzed by MICS is contributing to the body of sound scientific information available to Fisheries and Oceans Canada to support protective measures for the North Atlantic Right Whale.

2018 – 19

$50,000

Whale science initiatives led by Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Quebec Region

 

Description

Timeframe

Investment

Title: Whale Observation on the Web (WOW) (Détecteur de baleines temps-réel sur le net)
Contract with: Multi-Électronique (Rimouski, QC)
Project summary: The WOW initiative involves the development and operation of whale vocalization sensors on Viking monitoring buoys, part of Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s ocean observation network in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The buoys measure oceanographic and meteorological conditions and broadcast them in real-time on the Internet portal of the St. Lawrence Global Observatory. The monitoring buoys have been recently outfitted with intelligent sensors that can detect and identify North Atlantic Right Whales and other marine mammals through their vocalizations, for widespread broadcast on the Internet.

2018 – 20

$259,500

Action taken under Species at Risk Act

Title: Action plan to reduce the impacts of noise on the Beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas) and other marine mammals at risk in the St. Lawrence Estuary (proposed)
Participants: St. Lawrence Estuary Beluga experts, representatives from Parks Canada, Transport Canada and three main sectors of the shipping industry: commercial shipping, ferries and whale watching tour operators (the main sources of noise in the St. Lawrence Estuary and Saguenay Fjord)
Project summary: This action plan proposes 32 concrete measures to reduce underwater noise, a common threat to several marine mammals at risk in the St. Lawrence Estuary. The main actions of the plan are to:

  • characterize sources of underwater noise;
  • gain knowledge on the impact of underwater noise on marine mammals;
  • assess measures to manage this threat;
  • implement measures to reduce noise and conserve and protect marine mammals at risk; and
  • raise awareness among users of the St. Lawrence Estuary.

2019 –

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