WHOI Team Detects Endangered Whales with Marine Robots

A team of scientists with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution detected nine endangered North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of Maine last month.

The robots are equipped with instruments that listen for whale calls and can report back to researchers within hours of detecting a whale, according to a press release. 

Lead scientists Mark Baumgartner and Dave Fratantoni, reported the sightings to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA asked mariners to slow their speed when approaching the area the whales were found to avoid striking the animals

The research project was underway Nov. 12 through Dec. 5, about sixty miles south of Bar Harbor, Me., and 90 miles northeast of Portsmouth, NH. Right whales typically use this area as a mating ground during this time of year.

 “We found our first right whale on the first day that we were surveying in decent weather conditions because the gliders were up there doing the leg work for us, to tell us where the animals were in real time,” said Baumgartner in a statement.

The innovative whale detection system provides a more cost effective way to locate whales when compared to ship or plane based methods. The system also gives whale ecologists new tools for understanding the large animals.

The project will help researchers understand what draws whales to this part of the ocean during the late fall and winter.


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