Photo by kohane via Flickr CC
"They are basically deer on the highway," says Christopher Clark, director of the Bioacoustics Research Program at Cornell University, of whales that are going along their merry way, until they cross paths with ships. In an effort to reduce the number of whale-ship collisions and resulting whale fatalities, researchers have come up with technologies that detect the heat and sound put off by whales, so that ships can navigate out of their way. It's a far cry from "Thar she blows!" hollered from the crow's nest.Finding Hot Whales From the Crow's Nest
According to Scientific American, Olaf Boebel, head of the Oceanic Acoustics research group at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Germany, has been working for the past 5 years on a solution to help ships detect and avoid whales. It looks like they might have nailed a solution - a thermal imaging camera that detects whale spouts, which just tested successfully on a research icebreaker.
The camera is mounted to a ship's crow's nest and scans 360 degrees, detecting a whale's presence while analyzing the half a million images it captures daily. So, I guess in literal terms, it's actually not all that far off from a "Thar she blows!" from the crow's nest.
The new technology could help significantly reduce the number of fatalities of the endangered right whale, along with others. More work is needed to weed out false alarms like those caused by birds or sunlight, but it poses much potential for helping to keep whales and ships out of one another's way.
Hearing Whale Song from Buoys
Also helping to protect right whales is a second technology highlighted in the SciAm article. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution created an acoustic sensor that mounts to a bouy and can detect the call of a right whale, send the information to scientists on land, who can then verify and put a call out to ships in the area to be on the look out.
The technology is getting a hand from Analysis, Design & Diagnostics, Inc, who are helping to expand the library of right whale calls used for detection.
With all the trials whales are enduring, from pollution to hunting, the last thing they need to deal with is dodging ships. Hopefully these two technologies can get ships to steer clear of nearby whales.
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