Scientists Use AUV Technology to Track Whales

New Wave Media

January 20, 2013

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A team of researchers led by Mark Baumgartner and Dave Fratantoni, scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), are using AUV technology to study North Atlantic right whales. 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. The oceanographic research project was underway from Nov. 12 through Dec. 5, operating in an area called the Outer Fall, about sixty miles south of Bar Harbor, Me., and 90 miles northeast of Portsmouth, NH. Right whales are thought to use this area every year between November and January as a mating ground. The project is a result of an collaboration between WHOI, NOAA and the Office of Naval Research. “We’ve been doing visual based surveys for a long time – either from a plane or a boat. They have a lot of value, but they are limited, especially at certain times of the year,” says Sofie Van Parijs, leader of the Passive Acoustic Research Group at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC).  “These gliders provide a great complement to this system. Knowing where right whales are helps you manage interactions between an endangered species and the human activities that impact those species.” Besides the focus on the demonstration in the use of AUV technology for the management and conservation of baleen whales, the project also collected biological samples of phytoplankton and zooplankton, the food source for the whale population. Representative from the New England Aquarium also participated in identifying the individual whales. 


Image: Wikapedia/NOAA
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