Whale Friendly Ship: Maple Leaf Is Virtually Silent, Tests Prove

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This summer in Whale Channel, about 700 km north of Vancouver, we performed an important test: we verified, again, that the schooner Maple Leaf is one of the coast’s quietest vessels, even when she’s running her engine.

We’re very proud that she’s a whale-friendly vessel. She always has been.

With the recent news about noise pollution in the range of BC’s southern resident killer whales, which comes from commercial freighters and other shipping, naval vessel exercises, thousands of pleasure boaters, whale watching boats, and fishing boats, we thought you’d be interested to know that Maple Leaf is quiet.

How We Tested the Ship

To put our engines to the test, we pre-arranged with whale researcher Hermann Meuter of Cetacea Lab, to listen to his underwater hydrophone as we approached in the water over it.

It was a perfect moment for the test: the Maple Leaf was the only vessel in the long channel, the sun was warm and the sea calm.

Talking with Hermann via marine radio, Capt. Kevin Smith manoevered the Maple Leaf to sit right over the hydrophone, an underwater microphone that transmitted all ocean sound to Hermann’s lab across the channel.

As the ship sat with engine on and in neutral, Hermann said he couldn’t hear it at all. As Kevin put the engine into gear in slow ahead (the speed we use around whales), Hermann said he could barely hear it. Kevin moved up to half ahead (the speed we use in channels where whales live) and the engine was still very quiet.

Previous Test

This confirmed a test we had done a few years before, in another whale-rich part of the coast, Blackney Pass. That time, Kevin had contacted Paul Spong of OrcaLab on Hansen Island and did a similar test, with the same results.

Why Is Maple Leaf So Quiet When Other Boats Are Noisy?

Dolphins and porpoises love to bow ride Maple Leaf

The first answer is that when she is sailing, she is quiet because no engine is running. But she is also quiet when we use her engine. There are several factors in why. It’s all relative of course, but noise comes from propeller speed, underwater exhaust, and boat speed and lines (and correspondingly, engine size and RPMs).

Compared to big ships, Maple Leaf has a relatively small engine, and moves relatively slowly, which produces relatively little noise.

She also has a large propeller that turns a low number of revolutions per minute (RPMS) under water, producing low noise.

Her engine is diesel-powered, and requires low RPMs to produce lots of power. This means it turns over quietly, rather than racing, as smaller, gas engines do.

Maple Leaf, and indeed all sailboats, have very clean underwater hull lines. This sleekness means they move through the water very efficiently, requiring less power to operate and therefore less noise overall.

Maple Leaf has an above-water exhaust for the engine and the clean sea water that cools it. Much of the noise of boats in the water can come from the friction of their below-water exhaust being ejected against the water already in the sea. Maple Leaf makes none of this noise.

Does Anyone Require These Tests?

These tests are completely voluntary on our part; nobody mandates that ships be quiet in the water.

However, that may be changing, for the good of all the creatures that live in the sea.

Recently, a Canadian court ruled that the marine environment that endangered resident killer whales depend on must be protected. Importantly, this includes protecting the fish they rely on for food, and reducing the toxins in the water.

It also includes reducing noise pollution, especially in the Strait of Georgia, an inland sea between southern Vancouver Island and Vancouver. It is part of the southern resident killer whales’ territory and it is busy with freighter traffic (with new, larger, and faster engines), pleasure boat traffic, navy sonar, and other commercial traffic.

Why Is Noise Pollution Bad in the Ocean?

Whales use sound to locate food, see their environment, and find each other. When engine noise from boats becomes loud enough, they cannot “hear” or “see” what they need to.

As a thoughtful, ethical tour operator, we are very pleased that Maple Leaf doesn’t contribute to the underwater din in these southern waters, or make any in the relatively quieter northern waters of Haida Gwaii, the Great Bear Rainforest and Alaska.

Want to Hear Underwater Sound?

Check out these great projects, that broadcast oceanic sound over the internet:

  • Orca-Live – broadcasting from the Broughton Archipelago (site of our Whales and Totems trip)
  • Cetacea Lab – broadcasting from Whale Channel on BC’s central coast (site of Great Bear Rainforest trips)

Which Maple Leaf Trips Do You Encounter Whales On?

The BC and Alaska coast are home to many species of whales. You can see them on virtually every trip. But here is a quick reference list of our top whale watching trips in BC and Alaska:

  • Alaska Adventure – humpback whales, Dall’s porpoise, and sometimes killer whales, pacific whitesided dolphins
  • Great Bear Rainforest – humpback whales, Dall’s porpoise, and sometimes killer whales, pacific whitesided dolphins
  • Haida Gwaii – humpback whales, and sometimes killer whales, pacific whiteside dolphins, grey whales, minke whales, fin whales
  • Whales and Totems – killer whales, humpback whales, Dall’s porpoise, frequently pacific whitesided dolphins, minke whale
  • Gulf Islands National Park and Vancouver Island Inside Passage – Dall’s porpoise, harbour porpoise, sometimes killer whales (but not reliably so; these are not whale watching trips)

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