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  • Writer's pictureMalcolm Kennedy

All hands on deck: protecting the North Atlantic right whale

Updated: Apr 12

At the end of October, I had the privilege of attending the North Atlantic Right Whale Symposium’s annual meeting in Halifax, NS. The weather was warm enough that I got a chance to swim alongside a bobbing seal in the Atlantic. I couldn’t help squinting off into the horizon to see if I could catch an elusive North Atlantic Right Whale on its fall migration back from Canadian to American waters along the Scotian Shelf.

The conference was two full days of all-hands-on-deck collaboration towards a single end goal: understanding and protecting one of the world’s most critically endangered whale species. It was a gathering of scientists, government representatives from both sides of the border, fishermen and other industry allies of the cause. While the scientific discussions emphasized the severity of human threats to Right Whales, and the precariousness of their existence, there was also an overwhelming sense of opportunity to do better, and at times, even optimism.

One session at the conference that stood out focused on the burgeoning offshore wind industry along the US East Coast. The challenges faced by this industry embody the knowledge gaps that have thwarted effective conservation to date. However, there was also a growing commitment to using that increased human presence to ramp up monitoring and reduce risks for Right Whales across industries.

One talk in the offshore wind session focused on strategies for detecting Right Whales near active construction zones. Traditionally, passive acoustic monitoring has been the primary method for whale detection, allowing construction to pause when a whale is present. But the modelling of whale calling rates and movement shown in this presentation suggested that acoustic detection alone isn't going to be enough to reliably detect Right Whales: Even with extensive arrays of hydrophones expanding kilometers around a construction site, the chances of missing a whale remain alarmingly high. So we're going to need all modalities, including visual survey efforts, to more effectively mitigate the risks to Right Whales while taking advantage of the huge opportunity of offshore wind for energy transition.

Photo credit to A_Different_Persepective on Pixabay Whale Seeker team members recently concurrently mapped North Atlantic right whale average density (monthly time stamp shown on top right, averaged from 2011-2020) and vessel traffic (2019 data) on the eastern US coast. This project made evident the overlap between the areas frequented by North Atlantic right whales and vessels over 20m.

Map created by Malcolm Kennedy and Marina Galvao. Whale Seeker is excited to be able to hit the ground running with automatic detection technologies. We help cut down on the latency and costs associated with traditional aerial survey analysis, enabling the offshore wind industry to massively expand its monitoring efforts. Additionally, we’re also developing a real-time, forward-facing vessel-based solution that will allow for monitoring with greater geographic flexibility.

Are you ready to join us in this transformative journey? Schedule an exploratory call today and learn how real-time solution Möbius Observer as well as our human-in-the-loop solution Möbius can significantly enhance your environmental impact assessments and reduce project delays.  


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