Government of Canada continues protecting Southern Resident killer whales through new technologies 

News release

December 11, 2020                               

Ottawa, Ontario Few species have captured Canadians’ hearts and minds as strongly as the endangered Southern Resident killer whale. Known for their beauty, intelligence, and cultural significance, these creatures are facing unprecedented stressors directly related to human activities. With only 74 individuals remaining, it has never been more critical to understand the threats affecting these iconic mammals and their environment.

Today, the Honourable Bernadette Jordan, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard announced $568,179 in funding to Simon Fraser University for a two-year research project to improve methods and tools able to automatically detect killer whale sounds and distinguish them from other underwater sounds. This research will improve our ability to track Southern Resident killer whales in near real-time and will help us better understand how they are using their habitat.

This research project is being funded under the Oceans Protection Plan–Whale Detection and Collision Avoidance Initiative which aims to develop and test technologies to detect the presence of whales in near real-time. The project is complementary to another Simon Fraser University research project, also funded by the Department under the OPP–Whale Detection and Collision Avoidance Initiative, which is developing a tool that can predict the direction of movement of Southern Resident killer whales in near real-time. The ability to capture up-to-date information on whale presence could help alert mariners of the presence of whales in a particular area, reducing the risk of collisions.  

Protecting Canada’s endangered whales is a priority for the Government of Canada. Key threats affecting the survival and recovery of Southern Resident killer whales include reduced prey availability, contaminants, as well as physical and acoustic disturbance from vessels. The ability to detect the presence of Southern Resident killer whales in near real-time and predict their direction of movement is critical to developing evidence-based solutions to manage and mitigate these threats. 


“With a small population facing staggering threats, we must work together and we must act now to protect the iconic Southern Resident killer whale. This project emphasizes the sense of urgency and collaboration needed, and we are honoured to support it. By leveraging our investments in ocean science and marine technology, we will ensure we continue to protect these whales now and for future generations.”

- The Honourable Bernadette Jordan, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

“Advanced acoustic detection tools and research methods, will help to further understand the behaviour of the endangered Southern Resident killer whales. This information will help the government, Indigenous peoples, academia, and stakeholder partners, to work collaboratively in order to protect the whales, and to work toward the long-term recovery of their population.”

- The Honourable Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport

“The endangered Southern Resident killer whales have a deep cultural significance to Indigenous and coastal communities in BC, and are critical to the health and biodiversity of our sensitive ecosystems. This project is another positive step forward in our urgent effort to protect this iconic species. It also highlights the tremendous work being done in marine research at the SFU School of Environmental Science, and underscores the importance of providing our world-leading institutions with the tools and resources they need to address some of our most pressing conservation challenges.”

- Terry Beech, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, and Member of Parliament for Burnaby North-Seymour

“The School of Environmental Science at Simon Fraser University thanks Fisheries and Oceans Canada for their generous support to undertake this important conservation work on an endangered whale population. The project, led by Dr. Ruth Joy, will use state-of-the-art techniques from the field of Artificial Intelligence to develop a deep neural-network classifier that can discriminate between different whale species and other underwater sounds. The funding supports essential marine research within this whale's critical habitat, ensuring these waterways continue to provide habitat for wildlife and the coastal communities that depend on the Salish Sea.”

- Jeremy G. Venditti, Director & Professor, School of Environmental Science, Simon Fraser University

Quick facts

  • The Whale Detection and Collision Avoidance Initiative is one of many actions the Government of Canada is taking to safeguard our coasts and waterways under the $1.5 billion Oceans Protection Plan.

  • This project builds upon the work done to date by various groups and DFO is investing in multiple approaches to try to ensure the best possible system is developed.

  • In June 2018, the Government of Canada announced the $167.4 million Whales Initiative to protect and support the recovery of the Southern Resident killer whale, the North Atlantic right whale, and the St. Lawrence Estuary beluga.

  • An additional investment of $61.5 million was made to implement new measures aimed specifically at strengthening protections for the Southern Resident killer whale. 

  • The Oceans Protection Plan is the largest investment ever made to protect Canada's oceans and waterways for future generations. This national plan is creating a stronger marine safety system that provides economic opportunities for Canadians today, while protecting our coastlines and clean water for generations to come. This work is being done in close collaboration with Indigenous peoples, local stakeholders and coastal communities.

  • Recognizing the increased importance of natural scientific perspectives on environmental problems, Simon Fraser University launched the School of Environmental Science in 2019. Evolving from the undergraduate Environmental Science Program and Faculty of Environment, the School is now home to over 300 undergraduate majors and is the fourth largest science program at the university.  

Associated links


Jane Deeks
Press Secretary 
Office of the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans
and the Canadian Coast Guard

Melissa Shaw
Communications Associate
Simon Fraser University

Media Relations
Fisheries and Oceans Canada

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