New marine robot to help scientists track the movements of endangered right whales

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A new marine robot, part of a fleet of underwater gliders operated by the Ocean Tracking Network and Dalhousie University in Halifax, will help monitor endangered North Atlantic right whales to prevent them from d ‘collide with ships.

The newest glider will carry a hydrophone, which can identify right whale calls and report their locations, said Fred Whoriskey, executive director of the Ocean Tracking Network, on Monday. The University of New Brunswick and Transport Canada are also partners in the $ 3.6 million project which will run over the next five years.

“There isn’t just one way to effectively determine where whales are at any given time when they are in the Gulf of St. Lawrence,” Whoriskey said in an interview. “So we have to start mixing our approaches.”

Aerial surveillance is only good on sunny days with few waves, he said, adding that hydrophones mounted on fixed buoys have their limits.

“This year, we are deploying gliders in the navigation channels,” he said. “They descend, listen and detect whale calls and periodically come to the surface and broadcast information whether there are whales there or not.”

Whoriskey said the gliders are about a meter and a half long. “They are banana yellow, and they are shaped like a torpedo with wings.”

Three gliders are in use in the Gulf this year, and the most recent, under construction, will replace one of them. Whoriskey said that in addition to listening to whale calls, gliders are able to record water temperatures and oxygen levels, as well as measure chlorophyll and algae.

This North Atlantic right whale, sighted northeast of the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence on April 25, was the first right whale in Canadian waters this year. (DFO Aerial Survey Science Team)

Since June 2017, an unusually high number of right whales have died, reducing the population to fewer than 400 animals – a number some experts warn the species is on the brink of extinction. Collisions with vessels and tangled fishing gear are the cause of most fatalities.

Whoriskey said he believed his team’s research, which included analyzing animal movements and the location of food sources, would help the species bounce back.

Whales have traditionally spent the summer months in and around the Bay of Fundy, but in recent years they have migrated further north to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, raising concerns about their presence in the tracks navigation. Speed ​​limits for vessels and a number of fishing closures have been ordered in recent years following the detection of whales in the area.

“You can see the species fighting back,” said Whoriskey. “We had calf production this year. It is absolutely our responsibility to do everything in our power to let them bounce back.”


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