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Whale Program

For most marine species, the underwater world is defined by sound. Sound travels about four times faster in water than it does in air, and light doesn’t penetrate very far into the deep ocean. Humpback whales, killer whales and dolphins all rely on sound to forage, navigate, communicate and find mates. Herring and rockfish are extremely sensitive to sound and use their hearing to protect themselves from predators. Other fish species make noise to defend territory or attract mates.

Researchers are only just beginning to understand the importance of sound to most marine species. The volume of shipping and recreational boat traffic has grown rapidly in the Great Bear, and with it, the volume of underwater noise that pollutes the acoustic world. Major energy project proposals continue to be put forward in the region, and the Alaska Marine Highway, a significant shipping route, runs right through it. All of this noise can interfere with the ability of many marine animals to survive and reproduce.

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Great Bear Hydrophone Network

The Great Bear Hydrophone Network (GBHN) is a joint project between Pacific Wild, Great Bear Education and Research, and the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department. We monitor whale and dolphin (cetacean) sounds as well as ocean noise in Heiltsuk Nation territory, on the Central Coast of B.C., using a network of hydrophones (underwater microphones), donated to us by JASCO Applied Sciences in Victoria. The GBHN is a long-term, year-round monitoring program that can detect important but unseen changes in our marine ecosystems. The program fills an important gap between hydrophone networks to the north (Cetacealab) and south (Orcalab). This area is home to several species that are listed under Canada’s Species at Risk Act including humpback whales, Northern Resident and Bigg’s Killer Whales.

Long-term monitoring helps us to understand which areas whales use most, and how ambient noise levels are changing in different environments over time. It also helps us to assess where there may be conflicts between whales and vessel traffic. Data from the network can be used in marine planning and management as well as acoustic research on a variety of habitats and species, including fish.

Although they won’t stream live audio like our old hydrophones did, the JASCO systems record more reliably, can be set up without having to consider wireless radio connections, and require far less maintenance and equipment to operate. We will continue to post new recordings of whale calls and songs on our social media channels and add them to our recordings archive.

The network is used to document Killer Whale and humpback whale habitat use, and supplement sightings data.

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We are very grateful to work within an amazing community of cetacean researchers in B.C. These are the partners, advisors, and collaborators who have made this program possible: Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department  and JASCO Applied Sciences, Cetacealab, Orcalab, Ocean Networks Canada, Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard at the University of British Columbia, researchers at Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Pacific Biological Station,, researchers in the Juanes Lab at the University of Victoria, the Marine Education and Research Society, and the BC Cetacean Sightings Network.

Cetacealab, photo Tavish Campbell


We are very grateful to work within an amazing community of cetacean researchers in B.C. These are the partners, advisors, and collaborators who have made this program possible: Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department  and JASCO Applied SciencesOcean Networks Canada, researchers at Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Pacific Biological StationDr. Lance Barrett-Lennard at the University of British Columbia, researchers in the Juanes Lab at the University of Victoria, Cetacealab, Orcalab, the Marine Education and Research Society, and the BC Cetacean Sightings Network.

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