Let’s Talk About: AI to help save whales

Oceanus is the publication of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. I quite enjoy the issues of Oceanus and learn from the WHOI website and frequent free educational webinars. 

Living in Washington, with the whale-waters of Puget Sound, Straits of Juan de Fuca and the Pacific Ocean, we’re very aware of ferries and their potential negative impact on whales. (This article’s information applies to all ocean-going big vessels.)

“Artificial Intelligence, or AI, has come into worldwide use and in many ways we’d never have imagined.” The Spring 2021 issue of Oceanus explained……

“Vessel strikes are one of the biggest threats to the survival of the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale (and I would add, ALL whales). Restrictions on shipping speeds and routes have reduced the number of vessel strikes, but at least sixteen North Atlantic Right Whales were killed by ship strikes between 2003 and 2018. Only about 360 of these endangered animals remain.

“Various methods or remedial action have been utilized but up to now, nothing has really “done the trick.” A WHOI team is developing a new detection system, Thermal Imagine Scanners (cameras!) to be used to scan the water’s surface for whale blows. The cameras are linked to AI that the team has trained to ignore waves, birds and boats and to only sound alerts of a thermal signature…. ie, whale detection.

“Mounted on ships, the system can alert captains to the presence of a whale several kilometers away within seconds…..enough time for the vessel to slow down or change course.”

Don’t we all mourn when we read a news story of a dead whale on a beach with clear propeller slashes on its body?? Let’s hope our Washington ferries also get this technology to better protect our Orcas. I want my great-grandchildren to see leaping Orcas in our Washington waters!!

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