Northern Right Whale Survey

The Northern Right Whale is currently the most endangered of the large whales. The warm coastal waters of Georgia and Florida are known calving areas with whale presence possible from November through April. The greatest threats to the survival of this species are vessel collision and entanglement in fixed fishing gear. The Developers of a Liberty Harbor, a luxury community in Brunswick, GA provided the funding to assemble a team of researchers from the Cornell University Bioacoustics Research Program (BRP), Sea Georgia Adventures and Environmental Services, Inc. The team devised a passive acoustic monitoring program for the offshore waters surrounding the approach to the Brunswick River and the St. Mary’s River navigation channels. The first step of the monitoring program was to deploy a fleet of Marine Acoustic Recording Units (MARU) off the coast of Southern Georgia in December of 2006. MARUs are small plastic buoys which house a sensitive hydrophone (an underwater microphone), recording equipment and computer memory to store the recordings. The folks at BPR have been using MARUs for years and have been very successful at capturing right whale sounds in the cold deep waters off the coast of New England, but no one knew if the same technology would work in the shallow waters off the coast of Georgia.

The MARUs were strategically placed in a semi-circular formation and two triangular formations to determine the potential for pin pointing the location of a whale based upon the underwater sounds that they make. The technology in the MARUs is only able to record and store the data collected from the sea floor, so the next step in the monitoring process was to retrieve the devices in February 2007, after recording for 2 months during the prime season for Right Whales to be in Georgia waters.

The MARUs were then transported back to Cornell University’s lab for data extraction and analysis. The BRP researchers assembled the data and determined the number of whales in the area and the frequency of their communication. It was determined that the MARU technology worked off the coast of Georgia and that some filtration was needed due to the amount of fish noise that was being captured.

In late February of 2008 an Auto Detection buoy was deployed off the coast of Georgia. This buoy houses technology capable of detecting whale sounds and transmitting near real time data to researchers on shore. We are currently in the testing stages for this buoy. It is our hope that one day this buoy will be able to provide the data needed to broadcast whale location alerts that may reduce unnecessary, dangerous interaction of ship traffic and whale traffic.


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