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BC Ferries installs infrared cameras to help protect whales from ships

A B.C. rerry sails through the Salish Sea at sunset off of British Columbia.
Craig McCulloch
A B.C. ferry sails through the Salish Sea at sunset off of British Columbia.

Vancouver, B.C. — Special thermal infrared cameras have been installed at a British Columbia Ferries dock in the Gulf Islands as a pilot project to help prevent ships from hitting whales. This is especially important in helping protect the endangered Southern Resident orcas. 

The special cameras are installed on the dock in Sturdies Bay on Galiano Island. The confined space of the Gulf Islands and rise in marine traffic has dramatically increased the chances that boats will hit or endanger humpbacks and killer whales. 

The initiative is led by researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, with funding from the Canadian government. The thermal imaging cameras work by detecting the differences in temperature between the whales and the surrounding water and air when they surface to breathe. 

BC Ferries spokesperson Astrid Braunschmidt says the agency wants to do its best to help in the study. 

“We believe it's important to support research projects such as this one as the marine community in general will benefit greatly from these findings,” Braunschmidt said.

In May, the Washington state ferry M/W Wenatchee hit and is believed to have killed a juvenile humpback whale in Elliott Bay.

The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans ruled that the November death of an adult female humpback whale near Vancouver resulted from being hit by some type of a ship.

The new cameras are designed to work day and night. The hope is to use this technology to detect marine mammals when they aren’t vocalizing or making noise. The cameras are limited by some weather conditions, such as dense fog and rain. 

BC Ferries is one of the largest ferry systems in the world, carrying 22.3 million passengers last year. It has a total of 35 boats visiting 47 ports along 1,000 miles of British Columbia coastline.