Great Bear Sea Hydrophone Network

Understanding the acoustic seascape of the Great Bear Rainforest.

  • Photo by Jordan Wilson


For many 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. At present, the Great Bear Sea suffers from relatively little acoustic or industrial pollution. However, with at least 14 major energy projects proposed or in progress for the B.C. north coast, the pristine underwater acoustic world on which these species depend is under threat. 

In partnership with the Heiltsuk First Nation, Pacific Wild has established six remote hydrophone stations to study marine acoustics.  Ranging from Hakai Pass to Seaforth Channel and covering both the Inside Passage and the rugged outer coast, the Great Bear Sea Hydrophone Network has a listening range that covers a large portion of the central coast. Since 2011, data from these stations powered by alternative energy have been transmitted via mountaintop relay to Pacific Wild headquarters on Denny Island where they are recorded 24/7 and streamed online live for the world to hear.


Field technician Max Bakken working on a satellite installation

This network enables us to monitor changes in ambient ocean noise and analyze the potential effects of increased acoustic activity from supertankers on cetaceans.  In addition, the network is used to track killer whale traffic, document humpback whale song, supplement sightings data from Coastal Guardian Watchmen and participate in a number of recovery measures to support marine species at risk. Data collected from year-round live acoustic monitoring create long-term analysis capacity, tracking how a variety of marine mammal species utilize the waters of the Great Bear Rainforest.  Since the first hydrophone was installed in 2011, we have amassed over 75,000 hours of recordings including humpback whale song, northern resident and transient killer whale vocalizations and Pacific white-sided dolphin chatter.



Live audio from our hydrophones is broadcasted online for listeners around the world. Students at the Bella Bella Community School use the hydrophones to learn more about their local marine environment as a part of the SEAS Community Initiative.  In-school classroom programming is paired with hands-on field trips for elementary and high school students.  Additionally, interested high school and post-secondary students have the opportunity to participate in a summer internship program and gain experience in all aspects of the network including fieldwork and data analysis. 


Photo: Tavish Campbell

By partnering with other long-standing research groups in B.C. such as Cetacealab and OrcaLab, the Great Bear Sea Hydrophone Network will contribute to real-time marine mammal tracking, as well as the creation of a comprehensive picture of ocean noise up and down the coast.  We have recently started working with the Metlakatla Stewardship Society to help develop a community-driven underwater research program in their territory, located near Prince Rupert. We are excited to begin this partnership and extend the region’s ability to monitor cetaceans in the Great Bear Sea. 


Archived Highlights

Explore the archive of our acoustic recording highlights.


Support Our Work

Please help support our hydrophone research! Donate Now.

Photo: Max Bakken


Latest Activity