How to Deter Orca from an Oil Spill

Islands’ Oil Spill Association held an exercise on May 12th to test a method to deter Orca from areas where there are large amounts of spilled oil.  The exercise was held in conjunction with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Washington State Department of Ecology as part of the Governor’s Executive Order to protect the Southern Resident Killer Whales.

The method used was to hang oikomi pipes (8’ long pipes made with reverberant metal) from the boats and then the pipes are struck with hammers or rebar at two second intervals.  The pipes make a discordant noise that is not harmful to the whale’s hearing.  The boats line up beam to beam, holding their positions relative to the other boats.  One of the interesting parts of the exercise was determining the best way to deploy the pipes from the boats in such a way that 80% of the pipe was underwater and people were still able to be in a comfortable position to strike the pipes for long periods of time.

IOSA volunteer demonstrates using the Oikomi pipes.

Many different types of boats were used and it was a challenge with the different size boats and varying shapes of the keels to keep the boats in as close to a line as possible.  The volunteers did a great job of figuring out the best way to hang the pipes from the boats.  The boat captains were very skillful in keeping their boats lined up.  Another strategy was tried with the boats lined up in a U shape to see if that worked better in terms of disseminating the sound outwards.  Dr. Val Viers of Orcasound Lab recorded the sounds with his hydrophone so they can be analyzed later (at IOSA’s last exercise five years ago the sound levels were from 118 to 132 decibels).

In Barnes Lake, Alaska, this method was used to move Orcas out of an inlet with a shallow entrance that the whales were reluctant to cross.  The method was successful in moving the whales back into the ocean.

Eight boats from San Juan County and one from Whatcom County participated in the exercise with 37 volunteers.  Participants came from Washington State Parks, Phillips 66, Pacific Whale Watch Operators, Whatcom County Marine Mammal Stranding Network, and all over San Juan County.  IOSA thanks everyone who gave of their time to participate in this exercise!

Don Noviello of Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife describes how to use an Oikomi Pipe to IOSA volunteers.

Please contact us if you are interested in participating in our next exercise in 2019 (date yet to be determined).  We need more people and boats participating that would not be doing oil spill containment or search and rescue of oiled wildlife in the event of a large oil spill.  If you are a boat owner or whale watch operator who would like to participate in this exercise, please fill in the below form and we will notify you when we set a date for the next exercise.

This exercise was funded by a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation