The gliders are operated by Dave Fratantoni, a scientist in the WHOI Physical Oceanography Department. In use by oceanographers for about a decade, gliders move up, down, and laterally in a sawtooth pattern through the water by changing their buoyancy and using their wings to provide lift. They are battery powered and exceptionally quiet — a critical feature when collecting acoustic data. Credit: Nick Woods, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Scientists use marine robots to detect endangered whales

January 9, 2013

(Phys.org)—Two robots equipped with instruments designed to “listen” for the calls of baleen whales detected nine endangered North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of Maine last month. The robots reported the detections to shore-based researchers within hours of hearing the whales (i.e., in real time), demonstrating a new and powerful tool for managing interactions between whales and human activities.

The team of researchers, led by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) scientists Mark Baumgartner and Dave Fratantoni, reported their sightings to NOAA, the federal agency responsible for enforcing the Marine Mammal Protection Act. NOAA Fisheries Service, in turn, put in place on Dec. 5 a “dynamic management area,” asking mariners to voluntarily slow their vessel speed to avoid striking the animals.

The project employed ocean-going robots called gliders equipped with a digital acoustic monitoring (DMON) instrument and specialized software allowing the vehicle to detect and classify calls from four species of baleen whales – sei, fin, humpback, and right whales. The gliders’s real-time communication capabilities alerted scientists to the presence of whales in the research area, in the first successful use of technology to report detections of several species of baleen whales from autonomous vehicles.

Read more: Scientists use marine robots to detect endangered whales — phys.org.

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