Save the Whales:
Pacific Wild's Underwater Monitoring Network


Posted by Cayden Johnson


Jordan Wilson | Pacific Wild

The Sitka Society for Conservation (SSC) is Sitka’s non-profit environmental organization. A primary function of the SSC is to act as a pool of funds that is allocated to various external conservation initiatives who excel in their fields. At least one percent of all Sitka sales filters into the SSC, and we hold fundraisers and special promotions to increase the resource pool we’re excited to share.

Currently, Sitka is supporting Pacific Wild, a non-profit committed to defending wildlife and their habitat on the Pacific coast. We’re helping to fund Pacific Wild’s project, the Great Bear Sea Hydrophone Network (GBHN), located between Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii. This underwater network comprises sound-detection devices called hydrophones that monitor marine activity. The collected data helps make a case for preservation of the natural habitats of whales, dolphins, and porpoises. Hydrophones help address the effects of sound pollution on marine life from human-made infrastructure travelling through areas of residence.

Sitka got a chance to speak with Jordan Wilson, a Pacific Wild activist working hands-on with the hydrophone project. Wilson describes his role as Great Bear Live Technician as handling the installation and maintenance of Pacific Wild’s remote equipment, monitoring live camera and hydrophone networks, and analyzing the hydrophone data collected. “There is always something to fix [like] bugs in the system, sometimes quite literally,” says Wilson. “There is never a dull moment as a Great Bear Live Technician.” 

Hydrophones

“You can think of a hydrophone as a very sensitive underwater microphone,” says Wilson. A hydrophone is an underwater sound recording device capable of detecting sound frequencies between a single Hertz to over 200 kilohertz.

Hydrophones are a non-invasive method of gathering information allowing Pacific Wild to study certain species and determine better ways to protect the environment. The hydrophone network records vocalizations and compiles data on habitat-use patterns of threatened species over time.

The network focuses on cetaceans (set-ay-shuns), i.e. humpback whales, killer whales, minke whales, fin whales, dolphins, and porpoises. According to Wilson, humpback whales and killer whales are two threatened species whose critical habitat areas have not yet been identified on the central coast.


Jordan Wilson | Pacific Wild

“Over the course of the past year, our hydrophone network has had over 100 separate cetacean detections allowing us to analyze the matrilineal (maternal) lines of specific clans, as well as distinguish individual cetaceans living in or travelling through the area,” explains Wilson.

Conservation

The Network is intended to provide long-term non-invasive monitoring of cetaceans and general oceanic noise, a task Wilson says the government is failing to tackle in the area. Pacific Wild provides network data to the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department (government office in Bella Bella, home of the Heiltsuk Nation) and to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to utilize in marine planning.


Jordan Wilson | Pacific Wild
 

“This project is just one of many examples of working collaboratively with First Nations to develop research projects that meet their needs for acquiring information that will lead to better stewardship and marine protection,” says Wilson. “The project was designed to work within local parameters using local knowledge, and to provide a long-term database that is available to the Heiltsuk Nation and, with their permission, other researchers.”

Donations

“It is important to us at Pacific Wild to associate with organizations with a similar moral standing on common topics and issues that we deal with,” says Wilson.

The SSC’s donation totalled about 10 percent of the Network’s 2016 budget. The funding allowed Pacific Wild to replace batteries used in conjunction with solar and wind power at the hydrophone stations as well as purchase a next-generation digital hydrophone. Pacific Wild is currently in the process of installing automated detection software that will vastly reduce the number of hours spent reviewing hydrophone recordings.

“All of us at Pacific Wild have a strong passion for the lands and waters of the Great Bear Rainforest,” he says. “We have such devotion to our work in hopes to protect not only marine life but all life in this special place we are fortunate enough to call home.”

“In terms of protecting the Great Bear Sea and First Nations’ traditional territories, we still have a long way to go; but that being said, steps are being made in the right direction.”

To get involved with the Great Bear Sea Hydrophone Network or any other Pacific Wild initiative, follow Pacific Wild on social media and visit pacificwild.org to fill out a volunteer application or donate. You can become a member of the Sitka Society for Conservation or donate to the SSC through our online store.