For many species, the underwater world is defined by sound. Humpback whales, killer whales, dolphins, herring and rockfish are just a few of the marine species that use sound to assist in feeding and maintaining complex social structures. 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 and local conservation groups, GBEAR supports 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. Powered by alternative energy, data from the stations are transmitted via a mountaintop relay to our field station on Denny Island where they are recorded 24/7 and streamed online live for the world to hear.
RESEARCH: The 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 55,000 hours of recordings including humpback whale song, northern resident and transient killer whale vocalizations and Pacific white-sided dolphin chatter.
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, we can track killer whale traffic along the B.C. coast, document humpback whale song in northern waters, supplement sightings data from Coastal Guardian Watchmen and participate in a number of recovery measures to support marine species at risk.
EDUCATION: Students at the Bella Bella Community School also 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 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. These activities support our core belief that the long-term success of the Great Bear Sea Hydrophone Network and other conservation efforts is reliant on today’s youth.
COLLABORATION: By partnering with other 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.
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