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. Over the last year, we watched as the SRKWs welcomed a new baby in J pod and a new baby in K pod, and yet we also know that two other J pod 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 year progress and make a real difference in the water for these iconic whales and other cetaceans in Washington waters.
Over the last year, Quiet Sound has hired staff and developed program governance. Quiet Sound’s decision-making body, the leadership committee, is now meeting regularly, as are the five work groups, whose purpose is to advise the Leadership Committee on underwater noise, whale reporting, vessel operations, new technologies for vessel quieting, treaty rights, and adaptive management.
In our 2021-22 fiscal year, Quiet Sound secured an additional 65k in foundation funding to complement the initial state, local, and federal funding sources. In addition to the project-specific funders described below, Quiet Sound’s first year of operation was funded by Puget Sound Partnership, Port of Seattle, Port of Tacoma, and the Northwest Seaport Alliance.
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.
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; Quiet Sound will fund increased capacity for Orca Network to upload their sightings data into WRAS; and Quiet Sound will fund the necessary technology links to connect Washing-based SRKW sightings to commercial mariners.
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.
Quiet Sound convened the Vessel Operations & Incentives Work Group to discuss a draft scope of a slowdown area for Washington waters and continues to converse with relevant stakeholders to refine the plan. Variables of a potential slowdown area being considered are location, time of year, duration, and suggested speed of vessels. Also under development is a communication plan and monitoring and evaluation plan.
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 August with the final report completed by June 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 and Oceans Initiative are under contract with work expected to be done over summer 2022.
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 participated as the Lead Evaluator for this tech challenge. The Navy plans to announce the winners of the challenge in 2022. 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.