Since its launch in June 2021, Quiet Sound has made significant headway toward its overall goal – to better understand and reduce the effects of acoustic and physical disturbances from large commercial vessels on the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales in Washington waters. Since our launch we watched as the SRKWs welcomed three new babies and yet we also know that other pregnancies were lost. We welcome these new young whales as signs of hope while also recognizing that the whales continue to struggle with lack of food, toxins in the water, and vessel impacts. This motivates our work to build on our first biennium of progress and make a real difference in the water for these iconic whales and other cetaceans in Washington waters.
Quiet Sound’s staff lead our projects and support a consensus-based decision-making body, the leadership committee. The Leadership Committee meets quarterly, supported by five work groups, who advise the Leadership Committee on underwater noise, whale reporting, vessel operations, new technologies for vessel quieting, treaty rights, and adaptive management.
Quiet Sound is funded by state, local, federal, and philanthropic funding sources. Quiet Sound’s first biennium of operation was funded by the Puget Sound Partnership, Port of Seattle, Port of Tacoma, and the Northwest Seaport Alliance, the EPA, NOAA, Bonneville Environmental Foundation,the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and individual donors.
In our first biennium, Quiet Sound embarked on five projects to help operationalize the program, conduct much-needed research, and foster innovative whale detection technologies.
What’s next for Quiet Sound? Sustainable funding sources are needed to ensure the longevity and success of this program. The Quiet Sound staff, leadership committee and work group members continue to search for that funding, work to advance the program and projects, create and maintain meaningful partnerships, all in the service of supporting the recovery of the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales.
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Project 1IMPROVE AND SUPPORT THE WHALE REPORT ALERT SYSTEM
The Whale Report Alert System (WRAS) provides commercial mariners with real-time alerts on whale sightings in proximity to their ship. Quiet Sound aims to improve WRAS by supporting the input of Washington-based Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW) sightings data, in addition to the existing Canadian sightings data. This will ensure robust WRAS coverage of orca presence in Washington waters. Funding for this project is provided by NOAA and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
Quiet Sound, Ocean Wise, Orca Network, and the Whale Alert app developers have made significant progress toward increasing Washington-based SRKW sightings data in WRAS. Quiet Sound has contracted with Ocean Wise for WRAS services and to create the technology link needed to connect Washing-based orca sightings to commercial mariners. Quiet Sound also contracted with Orca Network to upload their real-time whale sightings data into Whale Alert. Orca Network has helped increase mariner awareness of Southern Resident Killer Whale locations via 614 sightings entries from October 2022 to January 2023.
Project 2TRIAL SLOWDOWN AREA
Slowdown areas are designated zones on the water that cover parts of the shipping lanes. In these areas, at certain times, large commercial vessels are asked to voluntarily reduce their speed to lessen their impact on the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale. In Canadian waters, slowdown areas are successful in lessening the underwater noise emitted by large vessels while in critical orca habitats. Quiet Sound is exploring the possibility of a voluntary, seasonal slowdown area trial in Washington State waters.
With guidance from mariners, tribes, and scientists, Quiet Sound developed and ran a trial voluntary vessel slowdown from October 24, 2022 to January 12, 2023 in Admiralty Inlet/north Puget Sound. Quiet Sound monitored ship noise levels, ship speeds, and whale presence as vessels transited through the designated slowdown area. Many vessels were able to slow their speeds to help quiet this area of critical habitat for the orcas. The Quiet Sound team is actively analyzing the data collected during the slowdown and will share results in spring 2023. For more information, visit our slowdown page.
Project 3GAP ANALYSIS FOR FUTURE HYDROPHONE INVESTMENTS
Hydrophones are microphones installed underwater that are used to listen to and record underwater sounds. There are many existing hydrophones in Washington waters that are owned and operated by various groups. Quiet Sound is supporting an effort led by the Port of Seattle to understand the current hydrophone capacity of Washington and identify any gaps. A complete and connected hydrophone network will help Quiet Sound monitor and analyze ship noise throughout critical orca habitats. This study is funded by the Port of Seattle.
Quiet Sound, including Leadership Committee and Work Group members, provided input on the project scope drafted by the Port of Seattle team. The study will be conducted by NOAA and the University of Washington. The study will begin in 2023.
Project 4OCEANS INITIATIVE HYDROPHONE STUDY
The research organization, and Quiet Sound partner, Oceans Initiative, is embarking on a project to analyze existing sound levels in Washington waters and report on how these relate to known thresholds of noise levels likely to disturb fish and marine mammals. The Puget Sound Partnership is the majority funder of this project. Quiet Sound supports this work through funding from Alaska Airlines via the Bonneville Environmental Foundation’s Promise the Pod Initiative. This research will aid Quiet Sound in understanding the baseline sound-scape of Washington waters.
Quiet Sound contracted with Oceans Initiative to support their work in calibrating an existing network of hydrophones in Puget Sound, namely the Orcasound cooperative hydrophone network. This calibration will help scientists effectively monitor underwater noise throughout Puget Sound. Ultimately, this work will help develop a framework for monitoring noise as a Vital Sign Indicator for Washington waters.
Project 5Tech Challenge to Advance Whale Detection Capabilities
One pillar of the Quiet Sound program is to support a market for new developments in vessel quieting and whale sensing technologies. Quiet Sound had the opportunity to collaborate with the US Navy’s Northwest Tech Bridge on a tech challenge that will lead to the development of a whale sensing system for vessels underway. This project is funded by the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN).
Quiet Sound was the Lead Evaluator for this tech challenge. The Navy plans to announce the winners of the challenge in 2023. The winner of this challenge will be invited to Maritime Blue’s next innovation accelerator cohort to continue to accelerate their efforts to bring a whale-sensing system to market.