Acoustic solutions to ocean noise pollution

This extraordinary year [2020] showed us that wherever we step back, the space we leave offers new opportunities for wildlife.” – David Attenborough

Sound is life in the ocean. If we pollute this communication channel … we condemn the ocean to irreversible changes.” — The French bioacoustics expert Michel André

In the documentary The year the earth changed Directed by Tom Beard, David Attenborough tells a joyful and hopeful film about what happened as people changed their social habits as a result of COVID-19 and animals had unhindered access to their habitats. You can watch the trailer here.

“Whether hearing birdsong in deserted cities, seeing whales in Glacier Bay, or meeting capybaras in suburbs across South America — people around the world have had an opportunity to engage with nature like never before, and human behavior — the reduction in cruise ship traffic, closing beaches a few days a year, finding more harmonious ways for humans and animals to coexist – can have a profound impact on nature.”

Especially for whales and other sea creatures that use sonar to navigate their worlds, increased noise pollution from merchant ships, explosions from gas exploration, and military sonar traffic have severely limited their ability to communicate with each other. This has impacted migration patterns, species regeneration, marine ecology and caused permanent hearing damage. This clip for The year the earth changed focuses on the stress faced by humpback whales.

The whales in Glacier Bay, AK are also familiar with the Chilean coast, which runs along the western edge of South America. The Gulf of Coronado is a 50-kilometer stretch between the island of Chiloé and the mainland that attracts nine different species of whales. This is the sight of this experiment with a new technology.

New technology developed as part of Blue Boot Initiative, a research project organized by the MERI Foundation in Chile can help reduce negative impacts on marine life and ecologies.

“Technology that uses acoustics to detect the presence of whales in shipping lanes could help prevent these collisions. André and his team from the Laboratory of Applied Bioacoustics in Barcelona have developed software called Listen to the Deep Ocean Environment (LIDO) that monitors acoustic sources in real time and uses artificial intelligence to identify them.

In October, a two-meter-long buoy equipped with this technology and other sensors will be dropped into the Corcovado Gulf off the coast of Chile, an area populated by both whales and ships. With LIDO, it will be able to detect whales within a radius of at least 10 kilometers and automatically send an alert to the Chilean Navy, which in turn will send a message to nearby ships, telling them to change course or their speed to reduce. Ship engines make less noise at lower speeds, making it easier for whales to track their location.”

French bioacoustician Michel André: “We (humans) have ignored this acoustic dimension.

At the end of the scroll for this article, you can listen to the sounds of blue, humpback, sei and right whale species.