AP

Robotic buoys developed to keep Atlantic right whales safe

May 28, 2022, 4:30 AM | Updated: 4:33 am

A Cape Cod science center and one of the world’s largest shipping businesses are collaborating on a project to use robotic buoys to protect a vanishing whale from lethal collisions with ships.

A lab at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution developed the technology, which uses buoys and underwater gliders to record whale sounds in near real time. The robotic recorders give scientists, mariners and the public an idea of the location of rare North Atlantic right whales, said Mark Baumgartner, a marine ecologist with Woods Hole whose lab also operates the buoys.

The whales number less than 340 in the world and ship strikes are one of the biggest threats to their existence, as they travel through some of the busiest stretches of ocean on the planet. Now, French shipping giant CMA CGM is working with Woods Hole to deploy two of the robotic buoys off of Norfolk, Virginia, and Savannah, Georgia.

CMA CGM is funding the deployment of the buoys, which will add to the data collected by six others off the East Coast, Baumgartner said. The two new buoys could be deployed for testing soon, he said.

“We have to change our industrial practices when whales are around. That’s what this tech enables,” Baumgartner said. “Having the industry tell us what works and what doesn’t is the best way to have solutions that will actually be implemented.”

The whales were once abundant off the East Coast, but their populations were decimated generations ago by commercial whaling. These days, they’re vulnerable to ship collisions and entanglement in fishing gear. And they’ve dwindled in population in recent years because of high mortality and poor reproduction.

The whales are aided by a complex network of protected areas and shipping restrictions. However, scientists have sounded alarms recently that the whales have been straying outside of protected areas in search of food as waters warm. That has made them more vulnerable.

Representatives for CMA CGM, which has a U.S. headquarters in Norfolk, said the company chose to locate buoys off the Virginia city and Savannah because those are among the busiest shipping ports in the United States. Ed Aldridge, president of CMA CGM America, said it’s an effort to “responsibly share the ocean with marine mammals and protect endangered species.”

The company is paying for the construction, maintenance and operation of the buoys for three years, said Heather Wood, director of sustainability for CMA CGM America. The company declined to disclose the cost of the project. It hopes to build a consortium of shippers that use this kind of technology to protect whales, Wood said.

“It’s an investment we’re making in the future of the seas and the future of the right whale,” she said.

Acoustic recorders have tracked whale sounds for decades, but the buoys that provide sound in near real time are a relatively recent invention, Baumgartner said. The robotic buoys make data available every couple of hours as opposed to months later, he said.

The results go on a public website and are also used by federal authorities to help make decisions about when to announce “right whale slow zones,” which call on vessel operators to slow down to 10 knots (11.5 mph) or less.

The data “allow us to send information to mariners quickly so those that are able can take action (by slowing down or avoiding the areas) to reduce the risk of vessel strike, which is one of the largest threats to this endangered population,” scientists Diane Borggaard and Genevieve Davis of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a joint statement.

Conservation groups and academics also use the data collected by the robotic buoys. They’re also used on the West Coast to help protect blue, fin and humpback whales, said Callie Steffen, a project scientist with Whale Safe in Santa Barbara, California.

“We hope shipping companies will integrate this,” Steffen said. “It’s a Smokey Bear fire warning, but for whale presence.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

deadly heat wave last summer...

Associated Press

After a deadly heat wave last summer, metro Phoenix is changing tactics

Fresh memories of the deadly heat wave last summer have led Arizona authorities to launch new tactics ahead of summer 2024.

23 hours ago

A Yuma man has been arrested for allegedly starting a wildfire in a national wildlife preserve near...

Associated Press

Man accused of starting wildfire in national wildlife preserve in Yuma

A Yuma man has been arrested for allegedly starting a wildfire in a national wildlife preserve near the California border.

2 days ago

Colorado River settlement center of new Navajo Nation push...

Associated Press

Tribes say their future is at stake as they push for Congress to consider Colorado River settlement

Navajo officials are celebrating the signing of legislation outlining a proposed Colorado River settlement that would ensure water rights.

5 days ago

Arizona doctors California abortions...

Associated Press

Arizona doctors can come to California to perform abortions under new law signed by Gov. Newsom

Arizona doctors can temporarily come to California to perform abortions for their patients under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

5 days ago

Father convicted of first-degree murder in northern Arizona...

Associated Press

Arizona man convicted of first-degree murder in starvation death of 6-year-old son

A northern Arizona father was convicted of first-degree murder Thursday in the 2020 starvation death of his 6-year-old son.

6 days ago

Former President Donald Trump sits in a courtroom next to his lawyer Todd Blanche before the start ...

Associated Press

Trump hush money trial enters new phase after defense rests without testimony from former president

Donald Trump's hush money trial is now closer to the moment when the jury will begin deciding the former president's fate.

7 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s how to be worry-free when your A/C goes out in the middle of summer

PHOENIX -- As Arizona approaches another hot summer, Phoenix residents are likely to spend more time indoors.

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Beat the heat, ensure your AC unit is summer-ready

With temperatures starting to rise across the Valley, now is a great time to be sure your AC unit is ready to withstand the sweltering summer heat.

...

COLLINS COMFORT MASTERS

Here are 5 things Arizona residents need to know about their HVAC system

It's warming back up in the Valley, which means it's time to think about your air conditioning system's preparedness for summer.

Robotic buoys developed to keep Atlantic right whales safe