How many of us are fortunate enough to find a critically endangered species calling in our backyards? A species whose recovery is hopeful, but still numbers fewer than 400 individuals?
The scenario isn’t far from the backyards of many East Coasters. Twice a year critically endangered North Atlantic right whales migrate along the eastern seaboard between Nova Scotia and Florida. The 50-ton whales pass just miles offshore of Boston, New York, Virginia Beach, Charleston, Savannah, and Jacksonville using their low pitched, ascending calls to maintain contact with others in their dwindling acoustic herd.
Despite their great size and bellowing voices, slow-swimming whales are vulnerable to collisions with small and large ships and to entanglements in fishing gear, and they are having an increasingly difficult time hearing each other through the din of commercial shipping traffic. See a size comparison between people, whales, and ships.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Bioacoustics Research Program is working to reduce these deadly collisions and entanglements, using sophisticated technology to listen for whales that ship captains can’t see.
Our engineers have designed underwater sensors that never sleep, that intelligently recognize a whale’s call, and that notify our analysts when a call is detected. We warn ships as soon as we detect a whale, which should be in time for the ships to avoid the hazard.
We’ve been helping to keep right whales out of harm’s way in the Boston shipping lanes since 2007 and in the Jacksonville shipping lane since 2008. Our underwater recording devices in the waters off New York City have also produced the first audio evidence of blue whales, right whales, and fin whales in the area. At the Cornell Lab we believe that technology and innovation are indispensable tools for conservation.
You can help endangered whales to be heard
In a naturally quiet ocean without shipping noise, a calling right whale can be heard at least 30 and up to hundreds of miles away. Near shipping lanes polluted with the noises of ship propellers, that range is often reduced to less than a mile. Your donation can help us continue our ground-breaking work in engineering biologically innovative detection devices and analysis techniques, and using our results to inform responsible decisions that will keep whales safe. Won’t you join us?