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Hear, hear! Underwater microphones offer extra protection to BC’s iconic whales

Ocean Wise integrates new method into its Whale Report Alert System to detect whales and reduce ship strikes

Ocean Wise is pleased to announce a new method to help protect whales from ship disturbances and collisions in BC’s waters. For the first time ever, automatic detections from hydrophones – underwater microphones – will be used to alert nearby commercial mariners of whale presence via the Whale Report Alert System (WRAS). These alerts will help mariners determine when to slow down, re-route, or stop to avoid whale disturbance and injury.

“In light of the ongoing issue of vessel impacts on whales in BC waters, implementing new ways to protect marine mammals is more important than ever. This exciting new method of generating alerts for the Whale Report Alert System is a first,” said Dr. Chloe Robinson, Director of the Ocean Wise Whales Initiative. “This integration solidifies the WRAS as a critical tool for reducing impact on marine mammals in waters on the Pacific Coast. By supplementing our community science-supplied sightings with hydrophone alerts that detect whale vocalizations in real time, we expect to be able to provide even more alerts to keep whales safe from ship strike and disturbance.”

Whales are social creatures and use calls, clicks, whistles, and echolocation to communicate, hunt for food, and locate each other. By listening for whale sounds, sensitive hydrophones can detect their presence and, via the Whale Report Alert System, automatically send an alert to any large commercial vessels nearby. Hydrophones dramatically improve whale detection capabilities in remote areas, especially when visibility is low (in poor weather or at night), or when cetaceans are submerged and not visible at the surface.

The hydrophone array being used for this implementation is based at the Boundary Pass Underwater Listening Station. The Boundary Pass station, operated by JASCO Applied Sciences, was commissioned in 2020 by Transport Canada, in partnership with the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority-led Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program.  The underwater listening station is located below a major shipping lane and helps to not only monitor sound levels of vessels coming in and out of the Port of Vancouver but can also listen to detect marine mammals. The station is within the designated critical habitat of the endangered southern resident killer whales.

Ocean Wise expects the use of hydrophones to result in more alerts generated via the WRAS, resulting in increased mariner awareness of whale presence and reduced potential for vessel strikes. Members of the public are still encouraged to report whale sightings via the WhaleReport App. When combined with these traditional observer reports, there is an increased level of confidence that whales passing through an area will be detected.

The Whale Report Alert System is part of the Ocean Wise Sightings Network. To learn more visit


“With investments through the Government of Canada’s Oceans Protections Plan and Whales Initiative, and thanks to the important work Ocean Wise is doing, we’re getting better every year at reducing threats to endangered whale populations. I look forward to seeing the results of this pilot project.”

The Honourable Pablo Rodriguez, Member of Parliament and Minister of Transport  

“Real-time whale presence alerts from hydrophones, like the ones that will now be delivered through the Whale Report Alert System app, are a promising step towards reducing the risk of whale strikes in our region. We are proud to support this effort to increase mariner awareness of the whales in our waters,
 while we continue to advance complementary whale protection initiatives through the ECHO Program.”

Duncan Wilson, Vice President of Environment and External Affairs, Vancouver Fraser Port Authority

“Technological advancements in underwater acoustic monitoring and automated marine mammal detection provide new abilities to reduce effects of commercial shipping on whales. JASCO’s PortListen® acoustic whale detection system provides alerts of whale presence to WRAS, that are now delivered to approaching ships in near real-time. This provides mariners with increased awareness of whales ahead, and the ability to implement precautionary measures to reduce risks for these animals.”

– David Hannay, Chief Sciences Officer, JASCO Applied Sciences

About Ocean Wise

Ocean Wise is a global conservation organization on a mission to build communities that take meaningful action to protect and restore our ocean. Through research, education, innovation, and collaboration, we are turning the tide on three major ocean challenges: plastic pollution, overfishing and climate change. By creating communities of concern that include industries, governments, and everyday citizens, we create a future where our ocean and the people who depend on it can thrive. Ocean Wise is headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia. With staff in Canada, the United States, and Chile, our work reaches over two dozen countries around the globe.  

About Transport Canada

Transport Canada is responsible for developing and overseeing the Government of Canada’s transportation policies and programs so that Canadians can have access to a transportation system that is safe and secure; green and innovative; and efficient. Transport Canada works towards these objectives by proposing and updating policies, laws and regulations; conducting inspections, enforcement activities and surveillance of the transportation industry’s equipment, operations and facilities; and providing funding to organizations for projects that strengthen the transportation network. Transport Canada plays a key leadership role in ensuring that all parts of the transportation system across Canada work together effectively by collaborating with various groups including Indigenous people, industry, provincial and territorial governments and international partners.

About the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority

The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority is the federal agency responsible for the shared stewardship of the Port of Vancouver. Like all Canada Port Authorities, we are accountable to the federal minister of transport, and operate pursuant to the Canada Marine Act with a mandate to enable Canada’s trade through the Port of Vancouver, while protecting the environment and considering local communities. The port authority is structured as a non-share corporation, is financially self-sufficient and does not rely on tax dollars for operations. Our revenues come from port terminals and tenants who lease port lands, and from port users who pay various fees such as harbour dues. Profits are reinvested in port infrastructure. The port authority oversees the use of port land and water, which includes more than 16,000 hectares of water, over 1,500 hectares of land, and approximately 350 kilometres of shoreline. Located on the southwest coast of British Columbia in Canada, the Port of Vancouver extends from Roberts Bank and the Fraser River up to and including Burrard Inlet, bordering 16 municipalities and intersecting the traditional territories and treaty lands of more than 35 Coast Salish Indigenous groups. The Port of Vancouver is Canada’s largest port, and the third largest in North America by tonnes of cargo. Enabling the trade of approximately $305 billion in goods with between 140 and 170 countries each year, port activities sustain 115,300 jobs, $7 billion in wages, and $11.9 billion in GDP across Canada.

About JASCO Applied Sciences

JASCO Applied Sciences is a world leader in the science of underwater sound and its effects on marine life. A global company founded in Victoria, Canada, in 1981, JASCO provides services from offices in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Australia. We provide support for all stages of environmental reviews and assessments of underwater sound for the renewable energy, oil and gas, marine construction, shipping, and defence sectors. We design, develop, and manufacture state-of-the-art oceanographic data acquisition systems to meet project demands for quality, endurance, reliability, and performance. We enable our clients to satisfy regulatory requirements by providing scientifically defensible assessments of their projects to government regulators and the public. For more information, visit:

Media Contact:

Rosemary Newton
[email protected]

Posted April 3, 2024 by Rosemary Newton

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