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Quiet Waters for our Whales

orca in ocean

Boat noise interferes with this. Interestingly, after 9/11 when things were still at a standstill – including non-essential boat traffic along many shipping routes – New England Aquarium scientists found that there was a six-decibel drop in noise levels. They were able to gather acoustic data from the Bay of Fundy before and after 9/11 and measured the stress hormone (glucocorticoid) in poop samples of North Atlantic right whales in the area.

Dr. Valeria Vergara, a researcher with Ocean Wise’s Marine Mammal Conservation Research Program, noted that the same thing could be happening in these days of the COVID-19 pandemic in her story “Quiet Oceans: Has The COVID-19 Crisis Reduced Noise in Whale Habitats?”

Commercial shipping and cruise ships are operating on minuscule levels this month. She pointed out that Maersk, a Danish container shipping company, has canceled more than 50 trips to and from Asia since February.

Transport Canada has stopped cruise ships from mooring and even navigating in Canadian Arctic waters in an effort to protect communities in the north from the spread of the virus. Since these measures are in place until October 31st, 2020, it will be a quieter summer in the waters from Arctic marine mammals.

Here in the Lower Mainland, BC Ferries has reduced its service. This, too, Vergara predicts, will have a positive effect on whale habitats as BC Ferries is the single biggest producer of noise in British Columbian waters.

“I reflect on these bittersweet unintended consequences of the pandemic for marine life,” Vergara wrote. “There is little doubt that we are experiencing an unprecedented hiatus in ocean noise. It is too early to tell how long this will last and what the impacts will be on marine mammals, but I hope that these trying and unprecedented times teach us something about the direct, and often immediate, the impact of our actions on our oceans.”