WWF guide helps ships avoid vulnerable Arctic species

25 May 2017

Canada Walrus Narwhal Bowhead whale Beluga Wildlife Shipping

A new WWF-Canada guide designed to help mariners in the Hudson Strait identify and avoid marine mammals is being unveiled at a Canadian Coast Guard and Transport Canada meeting in Montreal today.

Decreasing summer sea ice has led to growing interest in Arctic shipping operations. Mining, fishing and tourism industries will all contribute to increased ship traffic through the northern corridor, which connects Hudson Bay to the Atlantic Ocean.

The Hudson Strait Mariner’s Guide is made up of two large posters to be hung on the ship’s bridge: a chart that will help mariner’s identify whales, seals, polar bears and walrus, and maps of marine mammal habitat in both summer and winter. The guide lists phone numbers so mariners can report sightings and incidents at both the national and community level, and provides operational guidance when close to or encountering marine mammals.

WWF-Canada will be presenting the guide at the Canadian Marine Advisory Council meeting today and tomorrow, and will put copies of the guides directly into the hands of shipping company owners, operators and federal regulators.

How ship traffic affects marine mammals:

  • Noise from ships can make it difficult for whales to communicate with each other;
  • Passing ships can disrupt feeding patterns, and will often drive marine mammals away from their usual habitat;
  • Ship strikes can seriously injure seals denning on sea ice;
  • In the rare event of a spill, pollution from sewage, greywater, ballast water and fuel could damage marine mammal habitats.

Andrew Dumbrille, senior specialist, sustainable Arctic shipping, says:
“This is an opportunity to create a high standard for sustainable shipping practices before we see a major increase in activity in the Hudson Strait due to longer open-water periods. We hope this guide will serve as a tool for mariners to minimize disruptions to important habitat, and increase awareness in the shipping community about the wildlife that share these waters. It will also encourage mariners to work with northern communities who depend on the continued health of marine mammals for their own survival. Sharing accurate, up-to-date information makes the waters safer for all involved.”