Research studies impact of noise on BC killer whales

Science, Social Sciences

A southern resident killer whale in Haro Strait shipping lane. Photo by Valerie Shore, Shorelines Photography
The impact of underwater noise caused by human activity is an increasing concern for the 76 endangered southern resident killer whales around Vancouver Island. Photo: Valerie Shore/Shorelines Photography.

Three University of Victoria researchers have been awarded a total $935,000 in federal funding to study the impact of underwater noise on endangered southern resident killer whales and the chinook salmon they depend on for almost 80 per cent of their diet.  

Fisheries and Oceans Canada Minister Dominic LeBlanc announced the funding today in Vancouver as part of $3.1 million for research focused on the issue of underwater noise. The funding will increase knowledge of how noise from human activities is impacting the resident whales and chinook, and affecting the quality of the marine environment.

Only 76 whales remain in the southern resident population, which forages for chinook salmon in its core range off southern Vancouver Island. The primary cause of their decline and inability to recover is chronically low chinook numbers, although pollution and noise disturbance from vessels are contributing factors.

The UVic researchers—Francis Juanes, Rosaline Canessa and Stan Dosso—will study three aspects of underwater noise: how it impacts the ability of the southern residents to use echolocation for detecting prey and communicating with each other; how it affects the behaviour and physiology of chinook salmon; and how to improve current methods of measuring disturbances from marine vessel traffic and its impact on the whales.

"We’re thrilled by this opportunity to undertake important research into human impacts on the southern resident killer whales and their prey,” says UVic fisheries ecologist Francis Juanes, lead investigator for the chinook salmon research and spokesperson for the overall project.

“We anticipate contributing significantly to understanding the stressors affecting these magnificent marine mammals and, ultimately, to mitigation measures to help ensure their long-term survival and success."

Coastal geographer Rosaline Canessa will lead the vessel disturbance study, while marine acoustics specialist Stan Dosso will lead the echolocation research.

The University of Victoria is nationally and internationally recognized for its research strengths in ocean observing, climate modelling, ocean chemistry and physics, and marine ecology, More than 100 researchers spanning a range of academic disciplines are providing vital insights into how climate-forced changes are affecting marine ecosystems—and what can be done to mitigate or manage them to support ocean sustainability goals and coastal resilience.

A press kit containing high-resolution photos is available on Dropbox.

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Media contacts

Francis Juanes (Biology) at 250-721-6227 or

Rosaline Canessa (Geography) at 250-853-3938 or

Stan Dosso (School of Earth and Ocean Sciences) at 250-472-4341 or

Vimala Jeevanandam (Communications Officer, Faculty of Science) at 250-721-8745 or

In this story

Keywords: oceans, environment, wildlife, research, funding, biology, geography, Earth and ocean sciences, whales, salmon

People: Francis Juanes, Rosaline Canessa, Stan Dosso

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