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Robotic Buoys To Protect Atlantic Whales

The Cape Cod Science Center and one of the world’s largest shipping companies are collaborating on a project to use robotic buoys to protect endangered whales from fatal collisions with ships.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Laboratory has developed technology that uses buoys and underwater gliders to record whale sounds in near real time. Recorder robots provide scientists, sailors and the general public with insight into the whereabouts of rare North Atlantic right whales.

There are fewer than 340 whales in the world and ship collisions pose one of the biggest threats to their existence as they travel through some of the busiest stretches of ocean on the planet. Now, French shipping giant CMA CGM is working with Woods Hole to deploy two robotic buoys off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia, and Savannah, Georgia.

Representatives of CMA CGM, which is headquartered in Norfolk, said the company has decided to place buoys near the city of Virginia and Savannah, as they are among the busiest seaports in the United States. The company pays for the construction, maintenance and operation of the buoys for three years. The company also hopes to create a consortium of shippers who will use similar technologies to protect the whales.

Acoustic recorders have been tracking whale sounds for decades, but buoys that play sound in near real time are a relatively recent invention. Robotic buoys provide data every couple of hours instead of every few months.

The results are posted on a public website and are also used by federal authorities to decide when to declare “southern whale slowdown zones,” which urge ship operators to slow down to 10 knots or less.

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