21 May 2008

Saving whales with special buoys

Researchers from the Cornell University have engineered a high-tech system of submerged listening posts stretching across 88 Km of Massachusetts Bay that can detect the whale sounds and manage vessel traffic to avoid collision between ships and cetaceans.

The method is simple: special buoys are used in areas where cetaceans density is higher. Each buoy has a highly-tech audio system, able to detect and record whales sounds. When whale sounds are detected, cell phone and satellite technologies relay the information from buoys to shore in nearly real-time. The central system is also able to elaborate the audio information and transmit the whale position to ship captains, who can slow down to 10 knots and lookout to avoid a collision.

The network is designed to protect the North Atlantic right whales from deadly collisions in the busy shipping lanes in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, but in the future could be used in other areas.

Whales collisions have also been recorded in Mediterranean Sea. Research by Tethys shows that the Pelagos Sanctuary, Gulf of Lions and adjacent waters are high-risk areas for whale collisions.

Silvia Bonizzoni

For more information:

Panigada S., Pesante G., Zanardelli M., Capoulade F., Gannier A., Weinrich M.T. 2006. Mediterranean fin whales at risk from fatal ship strikes. Marine Pollution Bulletin 52:1287-1298.

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