Great Bear Sea Hydrophone Network

Understanding the acoustic seascape of the Great Bear Rainforest.

  • Photo by Jordan Wilson


For most marine species, the underwater world is defined by sound.  Humpback whales, killer whales and dolphins all rely on sound to forage, navigate and communicate. 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. 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 on which these species depend. Major energy project proposals continue to be put forward in the region, and the Alaska Marine Highway, a significant shipping route, runs right through the Great Bear. As such, the underwater acoustic world on which marine species depend is less than pristine, and at risk of greater levels of noise pollution. 

The Great Bear Sea 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). From 2011-2016, audio from these stations was transmitted via mountaintop relay to Pacific Wild headquarters on Denny Island, where they were recorded 24/7 and streamed live online. We are now shifting to Automated Marine Acoustic Recorders (AMARs), donated to us by JASCO Applied Sciences in Victoria. Although they won't stream live audio, these systems record more reliably than live-streaming audio, can be sited 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 GBHN is a long-term monitoring program that can detect important but unseen changes in our marine ecosystems, such as increasing human-caused noise emissions and changes in cetacean habitat use over time. 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. 

The network is used to track killer whale traffic, document humpback whale song, supplement sightings data from Coastal Guardian Watchmen and contribute to recovery measures to support marine species at risk, as well as marine protected areas network planning and implementation. 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.


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, CetacealabOrcalab, the Marine Education and Research Society, and the BC Cetacean Sightings Network

Archived Highlights

Explore the archive of our acoustic recording highlights.

Support Our Work

Please help support our hydrophone research! Every donation helps to keep this program running. Donate Now.



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