Large vessels asked to slow down in Puget Sound to protect endangered Southern Resident orcas

Oct 25, 2022, 6:50 AM | Updated: 7:14 am

FILE - In this Jan. 18, 2014, file photo, endangered orcas swim in Puget Sound and in view of the O...

FILE - In this Jan. 18, 2014, file photo, endangered orcas swim in Puget Sound and in view of the Olympic Mountains just west of Seattle, as seen from a federal research vessel that has been tracking the whales. A federal court ruling this week has thrown into doubt the future of a valuable commercial king salmon fishery in Southeast Alaska, after a conservation group challenged the government's approval of the harvest as a threat to protected fish and the endangered killer whales that eat them. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

Southern resident orcas are scrounging for food in the Puget Sound. Salmon is limited and their ability to hunt using echolocation is hindered by boat noise. On Monday, a new trial program began, with its goal to cut back on underwater noise.

Until Dec. 22, the U.S. Coast Guard is asking large vessels passing through a 20-mile stretch of North Puget Sound to reduce speed. Cargo ships, container ships, auto carriers, bulkers, tankers and cruise liners are all encouraged to partake.

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The voluntary slow-down zone was created by the Quiet Sound Coalition.

“We based the 20-nautical-mile size on the similar slow down zones that take place in British Columbia and have been very successful there,” said Quiet Sound Coalition program director Rachel Aronson.

Over the next couple of months, scientists will collect data.

“We are putting an underwater microphone into the water to collect vessel noise data during the slowdown and after the slowdown,” said Aronson.

They’ll also monitor vessel speed and track orca movement.

Mike Moore of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association sets regulations for commercial vessels. He says having these transoceanic carriers cut their speed back a couple knots could make a difference in the sound they emit.

“As the propellers (are) turning around, it creates little air bubbles and when those bubbles pop, it happens to be in the same frequency that the orcas talk to each other,” said Moore.

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Large vessels asked to slow down in Puget Sound to protect endangered Southern Resident orcas