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.
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.
Two gliders were deployed by Ben Hodges and Nick Woods, also of WHOI, on Nov. 12 from the University of New Hampshire's 50-ft research vessel, the Gulf Challenger. The vehicles surveyed the area for two weeks, sending data to the researchers every two hours via satellite, prior to the scientific team's arrival Nov. 28 on the Univer
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Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution