Right Whales Sound Off

On Tuesday this week, I got a chance to go out with a crew from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution aboard their research vessel (R/V)  TiogaWe searched for North Atlantic right whales, towed for plankton, and deployed both a slocum glider and an underwater microphone called a hydrophone.  Just last week a crew from the center spotted more than a dozen whales in the same area we worked in, where there is also a  moored listening station that captures the sounds made by several species of large whales when they are present. WHOI, our center,  and the US Coast Guard are collaborating on the project.

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DMON buoy near Martha’s Vineyard that detects the presence of whales in the area by recording their calls.  Photo by NOAA Fisheries NEFSC/Christin Khan

The moored digital acoustic monitoring –DMON for short– buoy includes a real-time detection system and hydrophones that listen for and record the vocalizations, or “calls”of four kinds of baleen whales: sei, finback, humpback, and the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale. The hydrophones record around the clock. Snippets of the recordings are sent back to shore every two hours.  Eventually all the data are retrieved and then analyzed by experts who can identify which species of whale made the sounds..

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A hydrophone array is prepared for deployment by WHOI scientists abroad the R/V Tioga. Photo by NOAA Fisheries NEFSC/Christin Khan

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WHOI crew with slocum glider on the back deck of the R/V Tioga. Photo by NOAA Fisheries NEFSC/Christin Khan

We also deployed a WHOI slocum glider, an underwater robot that can also detect and record whale calls.  The recordings are  transmitted by satellite phone to a computer onshore that also helps navigate the glider from point to point.   The glider powers its way up and down in the water for two to three weeks on a set of alkaline batteries.

These projects are examples of how NOAA scientists are collaborating with biologists and engineers to increase our understanding of the marine environment using state of the art technology.  Although we didn’t find any right whales, it was a beautiful day on the water and I enjoyed learning about research underway by WHOI scientists.

Christin Khan

NEFSC whale biologist