WWF-Canada Blog:
Oceans


Whale sounds on Parliament Hill: decision makers tuning into conservation

A recent image of coughing pedestrians in Beijing made me think of how scientists try to relate the sound habitat for whales with smog. Distracting, annoying, difficult, sometimes physically harmful, and disorienting. I haven’t been to Beijing or dove the ocean depths looking for food but I get the idea.

(From left to right) A view of the northeast corner of Beijing's Forbidden City on 28 Feb 2013; The same view on 1 March 2013; Beijing Air Quality Index reading on 13 January 2013; A street shot central Beijing – only a few hundred meters south of the Canadian Embassy - the same day.

(From left to right) A view of the northeast corner of Beijing’s Forbidden City on 28 Feb 2013; The same view on 1 March 2013; Beijing Air Quality Index reading on 13 January 2013; A street shot central Beijing – only a few hundred meters south of the Canadian Embassy – the same day.

Over time I suppose those living in Beijing get used to the annoyance, adapt as much as they can and keep showing up for work. Whales I understand from the experts, do much the same. However, when you add in the cumulative impact of other stressors like shipping, hunting, climate change, pollution, they start to live in an underwater world that’s not only immediately dangerous but not worth sticking around for to raise a family.

The movement out of rich productive habitat by whales into less desirable and harsher ocean conditions (lack of food and suitable calving areas) is bound to lead to lower birth rates and challenges in feeding and survival. This might be the most significant and long lasting impact of a noisy ocean, whales moving to areas that can’t support them.

The Parliamentary event that brought this emerging conservation issue to MPs and Senators was a unique one. A line up which included:

  • Two scientists, Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard and Kathy Heise, from the Vancouver Aquarium, explaining the science and outlining practical solutions to reducing noise in the ocean including: marine planning to designate quiet ocean areas, technological fixes for ships to run quieter and more efficiently, and international regulations to set the bar high on a global scale with global standards.
  • WWF’s President and CEO David Miller, his first time representing the panda on the Hill, articulating the need and current opportunity for political leadership that could make a significant difference (see his blog on whales and noise)
WWF-Canada's President and CEO David Miller speaks at a Parliamentary reception on ocean noise. 1 April 2014

WWF-Canada’s President and CEO David Miller speaks at a Parliamentary reception on ocean noise. 1 April 2014 © WWF Canada

  • The co-chairs of the All Party Ocean Caucus, MPs Fin Donnelly and Bruce Stanton, signaling to all MPs the need for cross party dialogue on oceans issues that impact our economy and the values we all have in conserving nature.
  • And the star of the event, 10 year old Rachel Marshall, Earth Ranger Ambassador and passionate youth advocate for the protection of whales.

As positive momentum grows from events like this on Parliament Hill and the word gets out about the importance of managing noise impacts on marine life, and the science and regulatory communities catch up to the science, I’m still left with the Beijing image of people trying to cope with smog that is gradually making their lives unbearable. By the sounds of it, the acoustic smog that whales are having to cope with is equally unbearable. Here’s hoping our Canadian decision makers tune into the practical solutions to turn down the volume for whales off all our coasts.

Humpback whale with baby calf in Pacific Ocean © Florian Schulz/© 2009 Florian Schulz / WWF-US

Humpback whale with baby calf in Pacific Ocean
© Florian Schulz/© 2009 Florian Schulz / WWF-US