Navy talks marine mammal mitigation at symposium

Photo courtesy of Selena Rhodes Photography, Victoria, BC

Photo courtesy of Selena Rhodes Photography, Victoria, BC

Katelyn Moores, MARPAC PA Office ~

“You have to remember our sailors come from all across Canada and are often just as excited about seeing whales as you are,” said Danielle Smith, Maritime Forces Pacific Fleet Environment Officer, to a room full of researchers, naturalists and advocates at the 2nd annual Pacific Whale Watch Association International Symposium last month in Anacortes, Washington.

Smith was one of 17 presenters at the symposium, and explained the Royal Canadian Navy’s Marine Mammal Mitigation Policy and the navy’s commitment to following the policies and procedures put in place to help protect marine life.

The RCN’s Marine Mammal Mitigation Policy is a comprehensive order for all naval vessels that includes, but is not limited to, constant visual surveillance of the area by watch officers and lookouts, monitoring of passive acoustics and radar systems as a means to detect marine mammals, as well as the use of mitigation zones that will cease all sonar operations if marine mammals come within a certain range.

Smith advises Canadian Fleet Pacific on a variety of environmental factors, such as the location of local marine mammal habitats, migration routes and breeding areas, which are all taken into account when planning Fleet operations and exercises.

During her presentation, she discussed the success the RCN has had collaborating with external partners, including the Vancouver Aquarium’s B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Marine Environmental Observation Prediction and Response Network, and a number of other non-governmental organizations.

By working in concert with other organizations and navies the RCN is helping to ensure their policies and procedures are current, effective, and collaborative, she says.

So far, these partnerships have led to a number of benefits, including the ability to share and receive acoustic data, and to provide sailors with marine mammal identification training, while also working towards developing methods for real-time detection of marine mammals.

In addition, the RCN has actively participated in the development of Marine Protected Areas off the West Coast of Canada and continues to play a key role in establishing a protected areas network with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

“Participating in this symposium reinforced the Royal Canadian Navy’s commitment to work with partner agencies to ensure that we are doing everything we can to mitigate our impact on marine life,” Smith said. “It really is an open-door policy, and that might not be something they are used to, but it’s the type of environment we want to build.”

It was a message that many attendees were quite receptive to, and one that will no doubt lead to beneficial partnerships in the future.

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