Raise your voice for quieter oceans
- by: WWF Canada
- recipient: The Honourable Diane Lebouthillier & The Honourable Pablo Rodriguez, Minister of Transport
Travelling five times faster in water than in air, sound is the most effective means for marine life to sense their surroundings and communicate across the ocean's vast and dark expanse. But the naturally occurring songs, clicks and whistles that marine mammals rely on are being drowned out by the thunderous rumble of ships, deafening seismic blasts from seabed oil and gas extraction and exploration, and the increasing roar of marine construction.
Underwater noise pollution settles like a thick layer of smog over the musical notes of marine life, jeopardizing their survival.
Human-made noise impairs the ability of whales to communicate with each other and makes it harder for species to navigate, hunt and avoid danger. Whales can become separated from their calves and pods if they are unable to hear each other's calls. Loud sources of underwater noise may also damage animals' hearing, putting them at increased risk of ship strikes that can cause blunt force trauma or death.
In some parts of the ocean, underwater noise has doubled in less than a decade because of increases in shipping traffic. Yet noise pollution has largely gone unchecked and will get worse with the expansion of industrial activities in Canada's oceans.
The federal government knows underwater noise pollution is a threat to marine life and promised a first draft of an Ocean Noise Strategy in 2021, and then by the end of 2022. Now, with several whale populations swimming towards extinction, time is running out.
Canada must take meaningful, measurable and urgent action today to turn down the volume in our ocean. Please raise your voice for quiet oceans by calling on the federal government to release a strong Ocean Noise Strategy now.
The louder we get, the more we can do to reduce underwater noise pollution.
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The Honourable Diane Lebouthillier & The Honourable Pablo Rodriguez, Minister of Transport,
Canada has the world's longest coastline and an ocean territory spanning the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific. These vital marine ecosystems contribute directly to our cultural identity and economic prosperity — and are home to an incredible diversity of species. However, increasing human activity has made oceans louder, threatening the survival of at-risk species such as North Atlantic right whales, southern resident killer whales and St. Lawrence beluga whales.
Underwater noise pollution is harmful to wildlife for many reasons: it can displace species from feeding grounds and migration routes, impair hearing, and inflict physiological stress. It can also mask echolocation and communication, leading to fatal vessel strikes or causing whales to become separated from their pods and calves.
While Canada has taken a leadership position on underwater noise pollution at the International Maritime Organization, our own domestic effort — the "Ocean Noise Strategy" — is way behind schedule. I'm writing to you today to ask that Canada please prioritize releasing the Ocean Noise Strategy as soon as possible. To ensure this strategy meaningfully safeguards our marine soundscapes for wildlife, it should:
- Establish noise limits for activities we know have a negative impact on soundscapes such as shipping and oil and gas exploration. They should be informed by the biological limits (the volume different species are able to withstand without adverse impacts) and set on a precautionary basis using the existing body of scientific research as well as local and Indigenous knowledge.
- Take an area-based approach that includes noise reduction targets in regions that are already too loud and implements noise limits in rapidly developing areas, such as the Arctic, that haven't yet reached excessive noise levels. Canada should prioritize safeguarding protected ocean areas and key habitats for at-risk marine mammals.
- Spur the development and adoption of quieter technologies such as ship-quieting designs and noise mitigation tools for industrial and marine construction activities. In the meantime, Canada should immediately implement operational measures to reduce underwater noise such as slowing down vessels.
- Put in place regulations for the ongoing monitoring of noise levels, and the enforcement of noise limits and reduction targets that noise emitters must comply with. Without consequences, it's unlikely Canada's Ocean Noise Strategy will reduce noise pollution.
Everywhere there is human activity on or under the water, there is noise pollution. This issue truly spans coast to coast to coast.
Turning down the volume in Canada's oceans is vital to protecting marine species. Protecting the health of our marine environment also ensures that Canada's ocean economy can continue to grow in a sustainable and environmentally responsible way.