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Minke whale © Ursula Tscherter - ORES

The whale trappers are back with their cruel experiment

Anyone walking past my window might have heard my groan of disbelief at the news...
Boto © Fernando Trujillo

Meet the legendary pink river dolphins

Botos don't look or live like other dolphins. Flamingo-pink all over with super-skinny snouts and...
Risso's dolphin entangled in fishing line and plastic bags - Andrew Sutton

The ocean is awash with plastic – can we ever clean it up?

You've seen pictures of plastic litter accumulating on beaches or marine wildlife swimming through floating...
Fin whale

Is this the beginning of the end for whaling off Iceland?

I'm feeling cautiously optimistic after Iceland's Fisheries Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir wrote that there is little...
Mykines Lighthouse, Faroe Islands

Understanding whale and dolphin hunts in the Faroe Islands – why change is not easy

Most people in my home country of the Faroe Islands would like to see an...

Dolphin scientists look like you and me – citizen science in action

Our amazing volunteers have looked out for dolphins from the shores of Scotland more than...
Atlantic white-sided dolphins

The Faroes dolphin slaughter that sparked an outcry now brings hope

Since the slaughter of at least 1,423 Atlantic white-sided dolphins at Skálafjørður in my home...
Fin whale

From managing commercial slaughter to saving the whale – the International Whaling Commission at 75

Governments come together under the auspices of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to make decisions...

On the sea with Soundwatch

There’s a lot of talk about the Southern Resident orcas at this year’s Superpod, and much of the focus is on their top threat: prey depletion.  While on the island, WDC is also examining the other threats to this critically endangered population, including vessel noise and harassment.  I spent a day out on the water yesterday with The Whale Museum’s Soundwatch program, which works to prevent vessel disturbance to marine wildlife and collects important data on the interactions between the Southern Residents and surrounding boats.

Snug Harbor

Many of the issues with harassment stem from a lack of knowledge about the boating regulations for these endangered whales – it is illegal to approach or be under motor within 200 yards or park in the path of the whales, among other guidelines.  A lot of recreational boaters don’t know that these laws exist, and when they see a group of orcas, they understandably get really excited and want to move in for a closer look.  What they don’t know, though, can hurt the whales – and Soundwatch is working on making sure every boater knows how to whale watch responsibly. 

Orcas rely on their vocalization and echolocation skills to navigate, communicate, and forage.  Underwater noise can impair these skills, and harassment by vessels – including kayaks! – can disrupt their natural behaviors and interrupt foraging.  It would be like someone coming up and putting a hand right between you and that bite of dinner you were about to take, while yelling in your ear!

The data Soundwatch collects helps to protect the Southern Residents and educates the public about the endangered status of these whales and the threats to their recovery.  Soundwatch delivers material to over 2,000 recreational boaters and kayakers each year; in addition to recording the number, activity, and type of boats around the orcas, and the corresponding behavior of the whales.  The group is staffed largely by volunteers, and they work hard out there! I was able to witness firsthand the chaos of keeping track of the whales, the boats coming and going, and the diligent recording of information – surveys every half hour for as long as there are whales and boats around. Soundwatch has a tough job, but their work in educating the public and protecting the Southern Residents is priceless, and I’m glad I got to be a Soundwatcher for a day!