A group of Sooke residents have organized a meeting and public presentation to raise awareness about the plight of the region’s southern resident killer whales.
The group, Sooke Forum, has invited Lauren McWhinnie of the University of Victoria to speak about her research on the orcas in the Salish Sea.
The research focuses on the impact of vessel noise on the the southern resident killer whales. That noise, generated by passing ship traffic, interferes with the whales’ ability to communicate, forage and navigate.
The frequency of ship noise overlaps with orca communication, according to a recent study. The noise blends with the sounds made by the orcas and interferes with echolocation, which orcas use for navigation and to hunt prey.
McWhinnie will talk about the slow-moving extinction that is now in motion for the whales, with only 74 of the orcas remaining, down from 97 in 1996.
She will also speak about other threats to the orcas’ survival, including pollutants and the declining chinook salmon populations. Chinook salmon is the primary food source for the whales.
So dire is the situation, said Sooke Forum spokesperson George Butcher, that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced $61 million in funding to protect the endangered southern residents – on top of a previously announced $167 million to improve prey availability and reduce disturbance of the whales.
“This is a very timely talk for Sooke, given the concern about the impact of increased tanker traffic,” Butcher said.
“McWhinnie will also talk about placing hydrophones at the entrance to Sooke’s harbour to monitor boat noise, so that will probably be of interest to the people of Sooke,”
The public presentation takes place Jan. 29 at Edward Milne Community School at 7 p.m.
There is no charge for admission.