Learn about the five-step detection process:

  1. 1. Detect
  2. 2. Transmit
  3. 3. Analyze
  4. 4. Notify
  5. 5. Avoid
The human element

Ten sound clips per buoy transmission mean that the 10-buoy array can yield up to 100 two-second clips every 20 minutes. But some of the sounds don't come from right whales. Humpback whales, especially, can sound like right whales. Other up-call-like sounds can be made by fish or by manmade objects. Listen to whales and other underwater sounds

The detection software is intentionally calibrated to let some of these sound-alikes through. That way, it’s not in danger of ignoring any odd-sounding right whales.

Experienced analysts at the Lab’s Bioacoustics Research Program make the final determination on all sound clips. At least two analysts--sometimes, for tricky calls, the whole staff--decide on the clips, referring to a library of whale recordings when necessary. Reviewing an entire day’s recordings from all 10 buoys takes analysts 1 to 2 hours.

A typical day may see between 50 and 400 clips uploaded to the Bioacoustics Research Program’s servers. The number of false detections--which analysts must sift out from true up-calls before issuing an alert--depends partly on whether right whales are nearby. That's because the detection software rates real right-whale calls highly, leaving less room for false detections on a buoy’s top-ten list. Some days the clips are more than 90 percent actual right-whale up-calls. Other days fewer than 10 percent are right whales.

Step 4 > Notify ships in the area