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Endangered Whale Detector

November 7, 2013

Engineers are developing “whale detectors” to help ships avoid striking them.



Helping ships avoid whales. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Launching the waveglider on a test run. (Harold Cheyne)

North Atlantic right whales are highly endangered. Ship strikes are a leading cause of mortality because the whales’ migration route crosses paths with some of the busiest shipping traffic in the world. But the calls the whales make can serve as an early warning system.

(SFX: right whale whoop call)

Cornell engineering scientist Harold Cheyne is outfitting a self-propelled marine vehicle called a wave glider to record whale calls and transmit them via satellite in time to warn ships.

HAROLD CHEYNE (Cornell University):

The time response is crucial because the ships are required to slow their speed if a whale is detected to avoid a ship strike.


He estimates that his wave glider detection system would transmit up to 300 times faster than current technology used in Massachusetts Bay. The system could also be used to monitor the impact of naval exercises and energy development on marine mammals. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Right whale call courtesy of Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and