"Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That's the problem."

-A.A. Milne

Studying Marine Mammals Using Autonomous Acoustic Technology

Our collaborative research has shown that gliders work effectively as a tool for near real time detection of baleen whales. Our next aim is to operationalize this capability as part of NEFSC's ongoing efforts to monitor and assess marine mammal stocks.
Dave Fratantoni in lab
Dave Fratantoni working on glider in lab (Photo Credit: WHOI)

Mark Baumgartner in the field
Mark Baumgartner working on glider in the field
(Photo Credit: Nadine Lysiak, WHOI)

glider underwater
Rear view of a glider underwater
(Photo Credit: Dave Fratantoni, WHOI)
Over the past 5 years we have worked in collaboration with Drs. Baumgartner and Fratantoni from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) to develop autonomous gliders, equipped with a reliable acoustic detection algorithm to allow near real time detection of North Atlantic right, fin, sei and humpback whales. As part of this development the distribution and habitat of Gulf of Maine marine mammals was studied along predetermined transect lines using gliders equipped with instrumentation to (1) record low and mid-frequency marine mammal vocalizations, (2) detect, classify, and remotely report vocalizations of interest, and (3) measure high-frequency acoustic backscatter, chlorophyll fluorescence and oceanographic conditions.

Now that this approach has been demonstrated to work effectively we are hoping to operationalize this technology and integrate it along side conventional aerial and vessel based survey methods. This approach, though reliant on the animals calling, is both mobile and actively listening around the clock. It therefore has a high likelihood of detecting species within its detection range. This technology provides a great complement to conventional methods and should enable information on presence and distribution of baleen whales to be collected in areas, such as the Western Atlantic, and at times of year, such as the winter time, when conventional approaches are limited. This technology not only helps to address NOAA's monitoring and mitigation goals, but is also a valuable tool for addressing the data requirements of other federal agencies.

For more information:
- WHOI Autonomous Systems Lab:

- WHOI Mark Baumgartner’s glider research

- WHOI Slocum Gliders
News Coverage:
National Geographic Daily News:
"Sharp-eared Robots Find Whales-And Help Them Escape Danger."

"Underwater robots pick up songs of 9 endangered whales."

Associated Press:
"Robots find rare whales in weather humans can't."
acoustic detections Acoustic detections of right, sei, humpback, and fin whales (Baumgartner & Fratantoni, Outer Fall Study 2012, WHOI)

WHOI logo
Partners: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Primary Funders: Office of Naval Research and the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service Advanced Sampling Technologies Working Group, DOD ESTCP, US Navy LMR, NOAA Office of Protected Resources


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(File Modified Jan. 23 2015)