Ships slowing in busy channel to protect endangered orcas

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Ships slowing in busy channel to protect endangered orcas
Ships slowing in busy channel to protect endangered orcas

SEATTLE (AP) – Ships moving through a busy channel off Washington’s San Juan Island are slowing down this summer to study whether that can reduce noise to protect endangered Puget Sound orcas.

The orcas spend summer months in Haro Strait, a major shipping channel in the Salish Sea that is also critical habitat for the whales.

The trial, led by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, hopes to understand whether reducing commercial vessel speeds can reduce underwater noise. Orcas use clicks, calls and other sounds to forage mainly for salmon, navigate and communicate.

Noise and other impacts from vessels is one of three major threats facing the whales that currently number only 78. Lack of prey and pollution are the others.

The trial asks cruise ships, ferries, bulk containers and other commercial vessels to voluntarily slow to 11 knots through Haro Strait. The project ends Oct. 6.

FILE – In this file photo taken July 31, 2015, an orca whale leaps out of the water near a whale watching boat in the Salish Sea in the San Juan Islands, Wash. Ships passing the narrow busy channel off Washington’s San Juan Islands are slowing down this summer as part of an experiment to protect the small endangered population of southern resident killer whales. Vessel noise can interfere with the killer whales’ ability to hunt, navigate and communicate with each other, so US researchers are looking into what impact the project will have on the orcas. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
FILE – In this July 31, 2015, file photo, an orca whale breaches in view of Mount Baker, some 60 miles distant, in the Salish Sea in the San Juan Islands, Wash. Ships passing the narrow busy channel off Washington’s San Juan Islands are slowing down this summer as part of an experiment to protect the small endangered population of southern resident killer whales. Vessel noise can interfere with the killer whales’ ability to hunt, navigate and communicate with each other, so US researchers are looking into what impact the project will have on the orcas. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
FILE – This September 2015 file photo provided by NOAA Fisheries shows an adult female orca, identified as J-16, as she’s about to surface with her youngest calf, born earlier in the year, near the San Juan Islands in Washington state’s Puget Sound. Ships passing the narrow busy channel off Washington’s San Juan Islands are slowing down this summer as part of an experiment to protect the small endangered population of southern resident killer whales. Vessel noise can interfere with the killer whales’ ability to hunt, navigate and communicate with each other, so US researchers are looking into what impact the project will have on the orcas. (NOAA Fisheries/Vancouver Aquarium via AP, File)
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