Assessing the acoustic and physical disturbances of marine traffic on the Northern Resident Killer Whales in the Robson Bight Michael Bigg Ecological Reserve
The northern resident killer whale (NRKW) population off British Columbia’s coast is considered ‘threatened’ within Canada. Recent studies have shown that NRKWs face many threats, with a key stressor being the negative interaction with commercial and recreational vessel traffic. The Robson Bight Michael Bigg Ecological Reserve is a marine protected area in Johnstone Strait, east of Northern Vancouver Island. NRKWs migrate here in the summer to hunt, mate, and perform their unique “rubbing behaviour”. This ecological reserve has been the focus of a “voluntary” no-entry protected area to reduce physical disturbance to whales from boats. However, the Robson Bight Warden Program implemented through the Cetus Research and Conservation Society continuously observes vessels within its boundaries. To support this warden program, two MSc students will be stationed during the summer of 2021 at West Cracroft Island to collect daily visual and acoustic observations of commercial and recreational vessels along with all cetaceans in the region within and adjacent to the Ecological Reserve. Students aim to compare the level of anthropogenic disturbance from boat traffic, and focus efforts on determining why, when and how long NRKW choose to rub.