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Research at the University of Cumbria on the habitat and acoustic communication of marine mammals is influencing conservation practices.



Killer whales attract considerable public attention, but habitat requirements remain difficult to understand, limiting the ability to identify and protect critical habitat.

High levels of noise have been demonstrated to cause animals to abandon critical feeding habitat, whilst vessel noise also reduces the distance over which calls are audible and decreases the functional range of echolocation to detect prey. 



Research in the Northeast Pacific has provided insights into the acoustic communication and foraging behaviour relevant to identifying critical feeding habitat of endangered and threatened coastal killer whale populations in Canadian and USA waters.

In the Northeast Atlantic, the acoustic research off Shetland was the first to establish an acoustic link between herring-feeding killer whales in Icelandic and UK waters.



As a result of the research, Fisheries and Oceans Canada announced the designation of two new areas as critical habitat for resident killer whales off the British Columbia coast in 2018. This increased the area of critical habitat for endangered killer whales in Canadian waters by 6,419km2.

The research has also been used as part of Vancouver Fraser Port Authority’s ‘Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program, resulting in experimental trials to decrease the speed of super-tankers and large cargo vessels accessing the Port. The port authority also entered into a first-of-its-kind Species at Risk Act, Section 11 conservation agreement with eight other partners in 2019. The research enabled the benefits of the slowdown to be easily communicated to stakeholders and port users.

The research enabled Iceland’s Marine and Freshwater Institute to make Iceland’s first assessment of killer whales based on IUCN criteria.


More information 

Institution: University of Cumbria

Researcher: Professor Volker Deeke

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Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) (2023) Conserving marine mammals and their habitat through better understanding of their behaviour and the effect of noise pollution. Available at  Last accessed on: <date>