A whale frolicks in the waters off B.C. (Black Press file)

Thermal imaging cameras eye Salish Sea in hopes of better detecting whales

Cameras installed at BC Ferries’ terminal on Galiano Island, and off southern Gulf Islands

BC Ferries supports a one-year scientific study that aims to provide better detection of whales in the waters off Galiano Island.

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Fisheries and Oceans Canada, with the University of Erlangen in Germany and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts will run a year-long pilot project seeing if automated thermal imaging cameras, when used in combination with visual and acoustic detection, can be used to efficiently detect whales.

BC Ferries’ role in the project is to host the thermal imaging cameras at their Galiano Island terminal at Sturdies Bay.

The cameras will be active 24/7 and the study aims to improve detection rates of whales in the Salish Sea, even at night.

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“As a stakeholder in the Salish Sea, BC Ferries has a responsibility to understand how our activities may affect marine mammals in general and the Southern Resident Killer Whales in particular,” said Mark Collins, BC Ferries’ president and CEO.

“Our deck crews are always on the lookout for marine mammals, and we voluntarily report sightings to the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network to help researchers gather information. We believe it is important to support research projects such as this one, as the marine community in general will benefit from these findings.”

The cameras were set up in June and detect temperature to differentiate between marine mammals, ships and the surrounding water.

Thermal imaging cameras are also in place near the international shipping lane in Boundary Pass, which separates the Southern Gulf Islands from the San Juan Islands in Washington State.

ALSO READ: Eighth dead whale washes up on B.C. coast

If the pilot is successful, the cameras could be used to alert ships, like BC Ferries vessels, to the presence of Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) and humpbacks, allowing captains to make quick decisions in slowing down or avoiding where whales are present.

“Our crews have standing permission to deviate away from whales at the captain’s command when safe to do so. Vessels can also slow down, if deviation is not possible in confined waters,” adds Collins. “We are committed to working with scientists and whale researchers to identify new ways we can operate our ships to protect whales, while still meeting our obligations to the communities we serve.”

For more information on the variety of projects BC Ferries are involved with visit bcferries.com.

Southern Resident Killer Whales

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