An Orca calf swims alongside its mother. BC Ferries’ captains see a pod of whales every two days in the summer. (Jared Towers)

An Orca calf swims alongside its mother. BC Ferries’ captains see a pod of whales every two days in the summer. (Jared Towers)

BC Ferries’ marine super talks dodging whales

Marine Superintendent Brockhausen explains how ferry captains deal with whales and extreme weather

Most drivers in Greater Victoria know to be vigilant of weather conditions and the odd deer, but perhaps few stop to think about what hazards ferry pilots have to look out for.

Captain Jan Brockhausen is the BC Ferries’ Marine Superintendent South Coast, of Operational Fleets and Captains. In layman’s terms, he is someone who has been a BC Ferries captain for 10 years and who now oversees the two key routes coming out of Tsawwassen – to Nanaimo and Swartz Bay.

Passengers sitting in their plush seats charging their phones or eating at one of the canteens might not be aware that the stately pace often belies a ship wrestling the weather and dodging whales.

RELATED: New tutorial ‘Whales in our Waters’ launched by BC Ferries

“In the summer time it’s pretty frequent to see a pod of whales every couple of days,” says Brockhausen.

“Southern Resident Killer Whales are what we see the majority of. Quite a few humpbacks in the summer and of course porpoises.”

On a Spirit class ship there are 13 crew members operating the vessel; the captain, four officers and nine deck hands. When entering or exiting port the ship is said to be in maneuvering mode or the red zone. All five officers are expected on the bridge and this number drops to three when the ship enters open water, known as the green zone. One crew member who doesn’t leave their post is the look-out, whose job is to scan for danger, such as small boats, commercial ships, deadheads (floating logs) and marine wildlife.

“We encourage our navigators to do what it takes to limit our impact on their environment. As a general rule we try to stay half a mile, if not a mile, away from them,” says Brockhausen.

ALSO READ: Canada announces shipwreck plan that could sting dumpers with $6M in fines

BC Ferries have strict procedures in place when encountering whales and a new training program instructs navigators to limit the ships’ impact on whales, which can be difficult in constricted bodies of water.

”Our first strategy is to give them some room, second strategy is to slow down and create more room for them,” explains Brockhausen.

To assist the captain and crew, technology is being utilized in the form of the Whale Report Alert System, managed by Oceanwise at the Vancouver Aquarium. Reports from sailors of whale sightings are added into a data-bank and messages sent via app to all navigators within a 10 mile radius of the sighting.

“It’s worked pretty good. It gives us all a heads-up,” said Brockhausen.

BC Ferries confirmed that they are unaware of a whale ever dying by being struck by one of their ships.

ALSO READ: 1858 Naval maps combined with satellite data helps researchers map kelp bed health

“There are challenging experiences that happen all the time,” explains Brockhausen. “We’ve had some very strong weather days for ships that need to get back home. The process of getting a 167 metre ship into Tsawwassen when winds are upwards of 40-50 knots is ‘exciting’ to say the least. We do this very successfully and have many skills within our team.”

Environmental campaigners believe marine traffic is likely to increase in future and they are concerned ferry and commercial ship use will further disrupt marine wildlife.

In response, BC Ferries recently launched their Underwater Radiated Noise Mitigation Plan, saying “Our environmental, social and economic impacts are central to our business decisions.”



nick.murray@peninsulanewsreview.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

BCFerries

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Colwood Fire Rescue is reminding the public to only burn dry, seasoned wood in fireplaces after heavy smoke filled the intersection of Sooke Road and Acacia Drive when a homeowner tried burning a plastic item on Sunday, Jan. 24. (Emily Jessop photo)
Colwood homeowner burns plastic in fireplace, causes emergency response

Colwood Fire Rescue says burn dry, seasoned wood in fireplaces only

A rolled-over car was spotted in a ditch along Sooke Road near the border of Langford on the morning of Sunday, Jan. 24. (Black Press Media photo)
Car ends up in ditch along Sooke Road Sunday morning

Single vehicle spotted rolled-over just after 10 a.m. on Jan. 24

Steve Smith’s image of two sibling adolescent grizzly bears playfighting in the Chilko River in the B.C. Interior earned him best of show at the prestigious Lion’s Gate Celebration of Nature club competition for 2020-21. (Photo by Steve Smith)
Victoria Camera Club captures top spot in prestigious nature and wildlife competition

Saanich Peninsula photographers part of award-winning team

Downtown Victoria and the Inner Harbour are part of a corridor that also includes much of urban Saanich that is part of the Greater Victoria 2030 District, a sustainable buildings climate initiative announced recently. (Black Press Media file photo)
Ramping up energy efficiency in Greater Victoria buildings goal of new group

Greater Victoria 2030 District part of North American network of cities working to reduce emissions

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

The sky above Mt. Benson in Nanaimo is illuminated by flares as search and rescuers help an injured hiker down the mountain to a waiting ambulance. (Photo courtesy Nanaimo Search and Rescue)
Search plane lights up Nanaimo mountain with flares during icy rope rescue

Rescuers got injured hiker down Mt. Benson to a waiting ambulance Saturday night

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

From the left: Midway RCMP Csts. Jonathan Stermscheg and Chris Hansen, Public Servant Leanne Mclaren and Cpl. Phil Peters. Pictured in the front are Mclaren’s dog, Lincoln and Peters’ dog, Angel. Photo courtesy of BC RCMP
B.C. Mounties commended for bringing firewood to elderly woman

Cpl. Phil Peters said he and detachment members acted after the woman’s husband went to hospital

Dr. Jerome Leis and Dr. Lynfa Stroud are pictured at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on Thursday, January 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
‘It wasn’t called COVID at the time:’ One year since Canada’s first COVID-19 case

The 56-year-old man was admitted to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

An Uber driver’s vehicle is seen after the company launched service, in Vancouver, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Several taxi companies have lost a court bid to run Uber and Lyft off the road in British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Taxi companies lose court bid to quash Uber, Lyft approvals in British Columbia

Uber said in a statement that the ruling of the justice is clear and speaks for itself

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. (News Bulletin file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Nanaimo hospital

Two staff members and one patient have tested positive, all on the same floor

A long-term care worker receives the Pfizer vaccine at a clinic in Nanaimo earlier this month. (Island Health photo)
All Island seniors in long-term care will be vaccinated by the end of this weekend

Immunization of high-risk population will continue over the next two months

Most Read