In response to an article that ran in the daily newspapers Journal de Québec and Journal de Montréal on May 7, 2016, we would like to set a few facts straight regarding underwater noise caused by shipping traffic and its impact on marine mammals. The Marine Information Bureau would like to point out that:
1. No autopsy
As mentioned in the article, no autopsy was carried out on the small whale found beached at Saint-Nicolas on May 1. As a result, it is impossible to know whether this marine mammal’s hearing system was damaged and whether there really is a relation between underwater noise and that fact that it ran ashore.
2. Impact of noise from shipping traffic
The underwater sounds produced by commercial vessels are continuous and low-frequency. They can negatively impact marine mammals by causing problems in their ability to communicate among one another, navigate, locate prey, flee predators, avoid danger, rest and reproduce. Given the nature of the noise, it is highly unlikely that it could damage their hearing, unlike explosives or sonar, for example.
3. Normal marine mammal range
The article states that the St. Lawrence River around Québec City is hostile to marine mammals due to the noise pollution generated by shipping traffic. Not true. The St. Lawrence around Québec City is not part of marine mammals’ normal range, whether there is shipping traffic or not. The water is not salty enough here and lacks what these species need to survive. Shipping traffic is not in any way responsible.
4. Current and future initiatives
Various initiatives have been set up by the marine industry and the federal government to ensure better protection of marine mammals in the St. Lawrence Estuary in relation to the issue of underwater noise.
1. Green Marine, the environmental certification program for the North American marine industry, created a Canada-wide working group on underwater noise in order to develop a performance indicator to integrate into its program. Work on the new indicator began in 2014 and was initiated by participants (members of the marine industry).
2. The Working Group on Marine Traffic and Protection of Marine Mammals (G2T3M) was set up in 2011 and is co-chaired by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Parks Canada. G2T3M is composed of organizations involved in marine mammal protection and research, members of the marine industry and researchers, among others. Since May 31, 2013, the Working Group has set up voluntary measures for Merchant Marine vessels and cruise ships navigating certain sectors of the St. Lawrence Estuary. These areas are known for their resident beluga population and the great diversity of marine mammals who migrate there to feed. The voluntary measure is aimed at reducing the risk of ship-marine mammal collisions.
3. Fisheries and Oceans Canada has set up a working group mandated to develop an action plan for the St. Lawrence Estuary beluga population, for whom noise has been identified as a key source of disturbance. The industry has responded favourably to participating.