Dr. Lauren McWhinnie has been leading research on Saturna Island as part of the Noise Exposure to the Marine Environment from Ships (NEMES) project. The project assesses the exposure of the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW) population to noise from vessel traffic. Along with a team of researchers and experts, McWhinnie used SIMRES acoustical hydrophone data and land-based camera data to collect and interpret data for this study on noise exposure to SRKW.

The project found that SRKW display behavioural reactions to vessel noise, alter their vocalizations to overcome increased noise levels, and are affected by masking when in proximity to vessels. With vessel traffic expected to double by 2030, these effects could prevent the recovery of the SRKW population, currently down to 75 individuals.

Building on their results, Lauren and the NEMES team developed geovisualization tools which focus on mapping exposure hotspots, computing probabilistic levels of exposure, and identifying alternative shipping routes that would minimize exposure for cetacean species. These tools will assist marine managers and planners in adopting and implementing adaptive noise management strategies.

In December 2019, Lauren presented some of the initial findings to over 3,000 scientists at the World Marine Mammal Conference in Barcelona.

Dr. Lauren McWhinnie working on camera equipment overlooking Boundary Pass.

Play Video

Watch Lauren’s TED X Talk about underwater noise and Southern Resident Killer Whales.