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LNG ships through the Great Bear Sea

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Stellar Sea Lion numbers are up in the Great Bear Sea

Stellar Sea Lion numbers are up in the Great Bear Sea

Friday last week I attended a book launch by Ian McAllister: Great Bear Wild. Just beautiful photos of a fascinating corner of the country (get the book! Makes a great Christmas gift!).

Get that book!

Get that book!

The well-attended event has been well summarized by Mychaylo Pystrupa in the Vancouver Observer, so I won’t repeat it here. And I’ll point everyone to the wonderful site of the Pacific Wild organisation, which has amazing photos and videos.

But I wanted to share a couple of thoughts.

First, I surprised myself in having patriotic stirrings. Of course, in the light of the double tragedy of this week, with two soldiers dead on Canadian soil, patriotism was all over the media, but its appeal left me, well, a bit jaded and cold. It felt like a political co-opting of a few personal tragedies. So I was surprised by my own reaction to the presentations: the place is just so beautiful, so wild, so…right. I found myself feeling that, yes, this is a land worth protecting. Except that the enemy, or rather the threat, is internal. I’m still trying to reconcile my feelings.

Second, I was surprised by an aspect of the coast I had never considered before, even if I think myself somewhat knowledgeable about pollution and its effects.
It’s about noise.

Currently there is an abundance of whales of various species along the coast between Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii – the Great Bear Sea. And it seems that the lack of noise is one of the key reasons. Whales are well known to be sensitive to noise; excess noise leads to beaching, but lower levels of noise basically cause the whales to roam blind – whales use sound to find each other and ecolocate their preys.

(Don’t take my word for it; here’s a popular article that reports it; more in-depth stuff can be found in these articles here and here, and in this book here.)

So it seems that a hugely unreported threat to the whales is increased ship traffic. Which is exactly what the proposed pipelines would bring, whether for LNG or dilbit. Never mind the risk of spill: the real risk to the animals’ habitat is a continuous, chronic uncontrolled noise pollution. Even if the industry could indeed deliver on its promise of world class safety and spill prevention (which is dubious at best), this doesn’t begin to address the main threat.

And it’s not some romantic attachement to whales (for one thing, they stink of rotten fish). Whales are a top predator in the food chain, necessary for biodiversity, but their impact goes even beyond that. The physical churning of the water when they dive, and the fact that their nutrient-rich excrement is liquid and stays at the surface, both result in algae growing in stronger numbers than when whales are absent. The types of algae affected are the basis of the food chain, so more plankton, etc, all the way to more salmon. But the excess algae also contribute to carbon sequestration; that makes whales one of the ocean’s main defence against climate change. Who knew.

There are many reasons to oppose tanker traffic and industrialization of the central coast. Add this one: let’s keep the oceans quiet.

A spirit bear cub with two siblings

A spirit bear cub with two siblings

________________________________ __ _____________________________
Postscript: the Vancouver Observer garnered a number of comments, including pro-oil and development, as usual. Some of the comments are cogent, but I had to laugh at this one: “How many trees a year do you guys kill to get paper to print all the articles about how bad the oil industry is? Hypocrites.” Sir, the VO is a web-only publication, so, uh, no trees. You may wish to enter the twenty-first century – and, for that matter, realize that there is more to an economy than digging the ground for resources to ship away.

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Written by enviropaul

October 27, 2014 at 4:39 pm

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