It makes sense that shipping associated with Enbridge's Northern Gateway could drive whales from their natural habitat along the B.C. coast, pipeline opponents said Saturday.
"It might be something that few people have even thought about," said local activist Anne Grube. "I would think it might be an issue."
A study headed by Christine Erbe, director of the Centre for Marine Science and Technology at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, predicts underwater shipping noise could increase 10-fold in the province's northern fiords if the Gateway project goes ahead.
In a story published in Saturday's Vancouver Sun, Erbe said levels would be above anything the whales would ever experience naturally.
"There is a worry they will go away and not come back to these fiords. This is a critical habitat, important to them. Are they going to be able to feed elsewhere? We can only answer that with long-term monitoring, she said in the article.
Although far from an expert on such things, Grube said whales do rely on sound to hunt, communicate and navigate. A significant increase in noise will impact that.
"It's probably another environmental concern that should be studied before any of this goes ahead," she said.
Erbe's study predicts sound levels based on 220 annual tanker visits to Kitimat, where the Northern Gateway pipeline will end. Noise levels along one third of the coastal route will exceed ambient levels for a third of a day, a calculation based on one tanker with a two-tugboat escort.
Kamloops-South Thompson NDP candidate Tom Friedman said the study show's oil spills aren't the only threat tankers pose.
"I hadn't realized the noise from the tankers would cause disruptions to the whale population, but it makes perfect sense," he said. "It just adds to the reasons why Northern Gateway is not a good project for British Columbia."
Friedman said Erbe's report adds more fuel to the campaign opposing the pipeline.
Erbe is a former research scientist with Canada's federal Fisheries department. Her study was commissioned by World Wildlife Fund Canada.