SEPA Supplemental Orca Checklist Guidance

This SEPA Supplemental Orca Checklist helps guide lead agencies in determining whether there are vessel traffic impacts to the Southern Resident killer whale (Orcinus orca) population in Washington state marine waters.

Questions – Vessel (general)

1. What is the primary type of vessel (or vessels) that will be used as a result of this project (e.g., cargo, ferry, tug, tanker, etc.)?

List the primary vessels you're using for the project. If using multiple vessels, please distinguish by vessel types and estimated frequency of use.

2. What frequency of vessel traffic is expected as a result of this project (e.g., the anticipated number of transits per year, etc.)?

Transits are to be defined as a one-way trip for the purpose of this checklist. How often do you expect to transit in state waterways annually (e.g., daily, weekly, monthly)?

3. What is the expected operating speed of the vessels while transiting in the marine waters of the state?

Report the typical operating speed of the vessel in knots. If using multiple vessels, please distinguish between vessel types when reporting speed (e.g., tug – 10 knots, cargo vessels – 20 knots, etc.).

Questions – Vessel (timing)

1. Are vessel transits expected to be relatively uniform across the year, or are seasonal increases/decreases expected? If so, during what times of the year?

Provide information on the number of planned transits each month during the year.

2. What are the expected range of hours of transits for the vessels as a result of the project in Puget Sound and/or entry into the Columbia River (daytime, nighttime, both)?

Report on the expected time of day for transits to begin and end. If reporting on multiple vessels, indicate expected timing for each vessel.

Questions – Vessel (travel routes and anchorage/queuing)

1. What are the primary waterways of vessel transit in the marine waters of the state? Use the checklist to indicate the primary waterways planned for the vessel transit. Select as many as applicable.

  • Strait of Juan de Fuca
  • Haro Strait
  • Rosario Strait
  • Puget Sound
  • Columbia River
  • Outer Coast 
  • Other (please describe)

2. What are the designated anchorage areas this project expects to utilize, and how distant are they from the project? List the designated anchorage areas to be used and the distance from the project location. 

The Captain of the Port, under the authority of the U.S. Coast Guard, defines anchorage areas. All Puget Sound anchorage areas are managed by the Puget Sound Vessel Traffic Service on behalf of the Captain of the Port. Review a list of anchorage areas with coordinates here.

3. Will there be need for any unusual queuing dynamics to support operations?

Some examples of unusual queuing dynamics are just-in-time arrivals and multiple berthings per "vessel call" to unload or load cargo. Please list any unusual queuing dynamics you plan to use.

Questions – Vessel (noise)

1. Will the vessels use something other than conventional propellers for propulsion? 

When a boat moves in the water, ship-radiated noise is produced. The characteristics of the sound are dependent on both the engine and the propeller the boat is using.

Conventional propellers may include outboard, inboard, or sterndrive. Quieter alternatives to conventional propellers may include pod, surface or jet propulsion, fan propulsion in shallow draft, the use of sails, ducted or toroidal propellers, or boss cap fins.

2. Do the vessels or facilities participate in Green Marine? If so, at what level do they report on underwater noise?

Green Marine is a voluntary environmental certification program for the North American maritime industry. Program participants include ports, ship owners, Seaway corporations, terminals, and shipyards. 

Green Marine annually evaluates a participant's progress on each performance indicator on a scale of 1-5. The levels are:

  1. Monitoring of regulations
  2. Best practices
  3. Integrated management and quantified impacts
  4. New technologies and reduction targets
  5. Excellence and leadership.

​For ship owners, ports, and Seaway, Green Marine offers a performance indicator for underwater noise. The criteria at each level provide a milestone to meet to reduce underwater noise and impacts to marine mammals.

3. Will the vessels voluntarily participate in the Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program and/or Quiet Sound’s voluntary slow-down if they pass through those areas?

The Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program is an education and research initiative led by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority to better understand and reduce the impacts of commercial shipping on at-risk whales off the coast of British Columbia, Canada. The long-term goal of the ECHO Program is to develop and implement initiatives that result in a quantifiable reduction in threats to whales related to shipping activities.

Quiet Sound is a collaborative program that aims to reduce the impact of large commercial vessels on Southern Resident killer whales through voluntary measures.

4. Will the vessels’ transducers (for chart plotting) use low power and/or broadband technology (like chirp systems) or be able to switch to frequencies above 150 kHz?

Using frequencies above 150 kHz helps to minimize overlap with frequencies used by Southern Resident killer whales to forage and communicate. Please state whether the vessel transducers can switch to frequencies above 150 kHz.

5. Do the vessels or their pilots plan to use near real-time whale alerts (e.g., Whale Report Alert System) around the clock to raise situational awareness and modify their course or speed around orcas when safe to do so?

Please indicate any plans to use real-time whale alerts, such as the Whale Report app or Whale Alert app.

The Whale Report app is only available to operators of ships, tugs, and ferries and is not available for public use. Whale sightings are reported on the Whale Report app, verified, and commercial mariners are alerted. This can be done as a text message notification to mariners on the water within 10 nautical miles of the whale, or staff can receive a Whale Report Alert System desktop alert and can communicate to vessels in the area. Mariners can then report any mitigation options, such as slowing down or changing course. 

Whale Alert is a free iPhone/iPad application for fishermen, recreational boaters, industry partners, biologists, and volunteer networks to share real-time whale sightings. The app provides mariners and members of the public a user-friendly tool directly on their iPad or iPhone that displays whale "safety zones." Through the app, users can report any live, dead, or distressed whale sightings to the appropriate response agency, helping to reduce whale ship strikes. Whale biologists and resource managers can automatically share whale sightings, helping them to better understand whale feeding and migration patterns. Everyone is welcome to report sightings. 

6. What operational measures will the vessels take to reduce underwater noise?

Operational measures are actions the ship operator can take to reduce underwater noise, such as slowing down or changing course.

7. How else will potential increases in underwater noise be mitigated?

Please review these potential mitigation options.

Questions – Vessel (maintenance and support needs)

1. Does the project have a plan or requirement for vessels to perform annual (or more frequent) propeller and hull cleaning maintenance? 

Vessels contribute noise to the aquatic environment through propulsion systems, machinery, and flow from the hull shape as it passes through the water. Regular hull cleaning and propeller blade maintenance may help reduce vessel noise. Additionally, incorporating applicable vessel quieting technologies during retrofits and new vessel construction may also mitigate noise.

2. Will the vessels avoid the use of acoustic anti-fouling systems, such as ultra-sonic devices, which emit high-frequency sound?

Please indicate if you plan to use acoustic anti-fouling systems. Ultrasonic antifouling (UA) devices use transducers to produce signals at frequencies greater than 20 kHz signals that cause vibration or cavitation to prevent the settlement of biofouling organisms, such as algae, barnacles, and mussels. The frequencies of these systems are in the hearing range of Southern Resident killer whales and may disrupt their behaviors. 

3. What type(s) and number of support vessels (such as tugs for escorts or barges for fuel) will you use to support operations? Where will they come from and at what time (daytime, nighttime, both)?

Please list the number and type of support vessels, where they will depart from, and the time of day they are expected to travel.

4. Will your oil spill contingency plan meet the requirements of WAC 173-182-540 to ensure oil spill response resources for Southern Resident killer whale deterrence requirements are being met?

WAC 173-182-540 Planning standards for wildlife response outlines the requirements of a plan to respond to and care for wildlife injured or endangered by oil spills.

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