New underwater glider to help scientists track the movements of endangered right whales

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HALIFAX – New marine robot part of a fleet of submarine gliders operated by the Ocean Tracking Network and Dalhousie University will help monitor endangered North Atlantic right whales to keep them out collided with ships.

The newest glider will carry a hydrophone capable of identifying right whale calls and reporting their location, Ocean Tracking Network’s Fred Whoriskey said 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,” he said in an interview. “So we have to start mixing our approaches.”

Aerial surveillance is only good on sunny days with few waves, Whoriskey 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.”

“Gliders are about a meter and a half long. They are banana yellow and are shaped like a torpedo with wings, ”he said. 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 temperature, oxygen levels, and measure chlorophyll and algae.

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 up to us to do everything in our power to let them bounce back. “

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on July 19, 2021.

– By Kevin Bissett in Fredericton.


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