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Scientists use marine robots to detect endangered whales
Date:1/9/2013

sity of Rhode Island's research vessel Endeavor. The gliders continued to survey for another week before being recovered by the Endeavor on Dec. 4. "We put two gliders out in the central Gulf of Maine to find whales for us," says Baumgartner, who specializes in baleen whale and zooplankton ecology. "They reported hearing whales within hours of hitting the water. They did their job perfectly."

Using the gliders's reconnaissance data and continued real-time updates, the science team was able to locate whales in just a few hours of searching. "We found our first right whale on the first day that we were surveying in decent weather conditions because the gliders were up there doing the leg work for us, to tell us where the animals were in real time," says Baumgartner.

The innovative whale detection system provides conservation managers with a cost-effective alternative to ship- or plane-based means of identifying the presence of whales, and gives whale ecologists new tools for understanding large animals that spend most of their lives out of human eyesight below the sea surface.

Whale researchers want to learn what draws whales to this part of the ocean during the late fall and winter. However, high winds and rough seas typical of that time of year make studying the animals very difficult.

"This presents a huge knowledge gap," says Baumgartner.

The labor-intensive work of surveying for whales, overseen by NOAA, is usually done by human observers on ships or airplanes, and is limited by the conditions at sea.

"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 intera
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