Vashon Hydrophone Project

Puget Sound Chapter

© Dave Ellifrit, Center for Whale Research

The local orcas of Puget Sound have been officially designated as “Endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973.  Working in collaboration with NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), ACS-Puget Sound is committed to taking proactive measures to recover this vulnerable and unique orca population.

NMFS and other orca researchers are seeking more information about the Southern Residents’ winter distribution, travel, and feeding behavior.  However, visual estimates of populations and family structure is difficult, since these animals often visit Puget Sound and Vashon Island during the night, particularly during fall and winter months.  The Vashon Hydrophone Project (VHP) is an acoustic research project that helps determine which specific orca pods are present and what they are doing in Puget Sound waters, even at night!

Hydrophones (underwater microphones) are non-invasive, passive listening devices that can provide continuous acoustic monitoring of a target area, and are valuable tools for Puget Sound orca research. Researchers can identify orca pods by how they sound.  Recording the orcas’ calls and other vocalizations can supplement local sighting data. The recordings can also help us learn if the local orca populations are subjected to harmful underwater noise (like mid-frequency sonar) in central Puget Sound.

Data from the VHP are also used by ACS Puget Sound members in school presentations, community lectures, public policy meetings, and other events where such information may be useful for decision-making and/or educational purposes.  Additionally, data are shared with NMFS and orca researchers as a supplement to, and quality control for, existing acoustic datasets.

The coordinators for the program are ACS-Puget Sound Board Members, one of whom (Joe Olson, President and owner of Cetacean Research Technology) served as an underwater acoustics technical consultant during the making of the Academy Award-Winning documentary, The Cove.

You can become involved in the activities of the ACS Puget Sound Chapter, locate the site of the VHP on an interactive map of Vashon Island, hear orca vocalizations collected from southern resident orca pods, and learn more about how you can do your part to save this unique and fascinating population of orcas at the ACS Puget Sound website!