Ferries and whale-watching boats harm killer whales much more than TMX oil tankers

Good article on a subject I touched on a few days ago.

Wanna know what’s really harming B.C’s southern resident killer whale population?

Professional anti-pipeline activists will try to tell you it’s oil tanker traffic. That’s a lie.

According to the National Energy Board’s 674-page report released last week, when it comes to the noise pollution affecting the struggling pod of 74 killer whales, oil tanker traffic is responsible for just one per cent of the pod’s lost foraging time.

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, says the report which gave the green light to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

So much for the moniker eco-tourism. Those of us who pay to get close to these magnificent creatures may actually be killing them with our love.

According to the NEB report, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said that commercial whale watching in the Canadian and U.S. portions of the Salish Sea increased from a few boats in the 1970s to about 100 boats in 2016.

The NEB refers to a 2017 report in the scientific journal Nature, called Evaluating Anthropogenic Threats to Endangered Killer Whales. It states that “from the perspective of a foraging killer whale that emits high-frequency (18-32 kHz) echolocation clicks to detect and capture salmon, high-frequency noise from small, outboard vessels that follow whales might cause a greater reduction in a killer whale’s foraging success than low-frequency (<1 kHz) background noise from commercial shipping.”

These endangered whales are being chased virtually every moment of daylight from May to September. Is it any wonder they’re losing weight and are having troubles catching their food — something they do by using sound waves? If people want to watch whales, they should go out in sailboats or kayaks.

The NEB refers to another report that says the foraging time for the orca pod as a result of noise is reduced by up to 5.5 hours per day. 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.

The study stated “that ferries undoubtedly contribute a large amount of noise due to their size, the large number of monthly ferry trips, and because their routes are widely distributed throughout” the pod’s habitat. To make matters worse, B.C.’s provincial government plans to increase the number of ferry trips in B.C. coastal waters by an enormous 2,700 trips per year — or 225 more trips per month.

Meanwhile, the number of added tanker trips caused by the proposed expansion of Trans Mountain Pipeline is just 29 more ships per month for a total of 35 per month, or about one per day.

So there you have it. Tourism isn’t so green after all. It contributes significant greenhouse gases and makes hunting, for at least this one pod of killer whales, very difficult.

An aerial view of the Trans Mountain marine terminal in Burnaby on May 29, 2018. JONATHAN HAYWARD /THE CANADIAN PRESS

Despite what you have already read about the Trans Mountain pipeline causing “significant” problems for the endangered killer whale pod in question — something that critics are already saying — that is not what experts actually say.

What the NEB report actually says is this: “While the effects from Project-related marine shipping will be a small fraction of the total cumulative effects, and the level of traffic is expected to increase with or without the Project, the increase in marine vessels associated with the Project would further contribute to cumulative effects that are already jeopardizing the recovery of SRKW (southern resident killer whales.)”

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