Project Goes Higher to Keep an Eye on Whales

The plan is to monitor and protect them
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 5, 2020 2:00 PM CST
Project Goes Higher to Keep an Eye on Whales
A photo taken by an aerial survey team from Clearwater Marine Aquarium last month shows a right whale calf and its mother swimming in the Atlantic Ocean off Georgia.   (NOAA Permit #20556-01/Clearwater Marine Aquarium via AP)

An aquarium and an engineering firm in Massachusetts are partnering on a project to better protect whales by monitoring them from space. New England Aquarium of Boston and Draper of Cambridge say whale conservation needs new, higher-tech solutions to protect whales from extinction. So, the pair is working together using data from sources such as satellites, sonar, and radar to keep a closer eye on how many whales are in the ocean, the AP reports. The effort has an easy-to-understand name for a project involving complex data and surveillance — the aquarium and firm are calling the project "Counting Whales From Space." That’s about the only simple thing about the project, said John Irvine, chief scientist for data analytics with Draper.

The work will involve gathering data from sources ranging from European space agencies to amateur radio operators to create a probability map of where in the ocean the whales might be, Irvine said. Conservation groups will then be able to monitor the whales, he said. "If whales are moving out of one area and into another, what’s the reason for that? Is it due to ocean warming," Irvine said. "Is it changes in commercial shipping lanes? These are all questions we’ll be able to start answering once we have the data." Aerial surveys are the most frequently used method to count whales, partners on the project said. However, that approach is expensive, subject to bad weather conditions, and can be dangerous. British scientists have already conducted counts using high-resolution satellite photos, per the BBC.

(More whales stories.)

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