‘Quieter ocean’ from COVID-19 could be a boon to endangered orcas, say researchers

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One of B.C.’s most threatened species could be facing an unprecedented respite during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The southern resident killer whales who spend their summers in the waters of the Salish Sea are listed as endangered with just 73 members left, and are facing a triple threat from pollution, a lack of food and marine noise caused by humans.

That third factor, however, has all but disappeared during the pandemic.

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“What we are experiencing right now is actually an unprecedented opportunity of a quieter ocean,” said Prof. Richard Dewey, associate director of science with Ocean Networks Canada at the University of Victoria.

“What we are seeing right now is a significant shutdown, anywhere from 20 per cent for some deep-sea cargo vessels, all the way up to 100 per cent for some industry, tourism, cruise ships, whale watching.”

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Researchers in British Columbia are now taking advantage of a network of submarine hydrophones that Dewey says is among the world’s most advanced cabled ocean observatories to listen in on that now-quiet ocean.

Lauren McWhinnie, an assistant professor of marine geography at Heriot-Watt Univesity in Edinburgh and an adjunct professor at UVic,

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