Acoustic Buoy Helps Ships Avoid WhalesJohn Simpson | December 01, 2016
An acoustic buoy recently deployed by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and the Wildlife Conservation Society has made its first near-real-time detections of two whale species in the New York Bight.
On Nov. 14, 2016, the buoy named “Melville”—located between two major shipping lanes entering New York Harbor, 22 miles south of Fire Island's west end—detected the “up call” of the North Atlantic right whale, an endangered species. The acoustic buoy in October had detected a sei whale, a species that grows up to 65 feet in length and is rarely observed in New York waters.
The buoy is four feet in diameter and its mast stands six feet above the sea surface. It is connected with "stretch hoses" to a weighted frame that sits 125 feet below on the sea floor. The frame carries an acoustic instrument that records and processes sound from an underwater microphone called a hydrophone.
Information from detected sounds is transmitted from the instrument to the buoy through the stretch hoses, and to shore through the Iridium satellite system.
While similar buoys were deployed by WHOI off the coasts of Massachusetts and Maine earlier in 2016, the near-real-time technology is being used for the first time in the waters of New York Bight—a region that ranges between Montauk, New York, and Cape May, New Jersey—and will help researchers better understand the movements of, and threats to, whales that swim in regional waters.
“Ships are a significant hazard to whales in the New York region; the highest incidence of ship-struck whales on the U.S. east coast occurs between the New York Bight and Chesapeake Bay," says WHOI scientist Dr. Mark Baumgartner, developer of the whale detection software for the acoustic buoy. "This new technology can help ships avoid lethal encounters with whales by alerting ship captains to the presence of the whales."