Unmanned deep diving gliders equipped with voice recognition software make it possible to follow large baleen whales as they swim off the coast of Atlantic Canada. An app just launched by the Canadian Wildlife Federation allows the public to follow the whales.
The Underwater gliders deployed by Dalhousie University can dive to a depth of 200m, detect whale calls up to 100km away and stay at sea for up to three months.
Equipped with hydrophones (underwater microphones), they listen for the whales. When whales are heard, the types of whales and their location are transmitted to the Whale, Fish and Particle Lab at Dalhousie University for validation.
Next, the gliders alert regional ship traffic and even the navy to the locations of these whales in near-real time. The researchers hope this information will help ship traffic avoid collisions with whales.
In real time
Since the summer, the gliders have traveled thousands of kilometers off the coasts of Nova Scotia and the Gulf of St. Lawrence in northern New Brunswick, sending back real time locations of whales and ocean water conditions. Although the Dalhousie researchers get real time locations, the glider data will be uploaded to the app weekly.
The gliders do not say how many whales are out there. They only ping each time there is an encounter. Tracking showed the endangered Atlantic right whale—whose population is down to about 500— congregating off the Gaspe Peninsula and not in traditional grounds in the Roseway Basin off southern Nova Scotia.
“They are showing up in places where we didn’t expect or not showing up where we do expect. Now we have a way to search for those animals in a cost effective manner,” said Kim Davies, a researcher at Dalhousie University.