Near-Real-Time Acoustic Monitoring of Beaked Whales and Other Cetaceans Using a Seaglider

In most areas, estimating the presence and distribution of cryptic marine mammal species, such as beaked whales, is extremely difficult using traditional observational techniques such as ship-based visual line transect surveys. Because acoustic methods permit detection of animals underwater, at night, and in poor weather conditions, passive acoustic observation has been used increasingly often over the last decade to study marine mammal distribution, abundance, and movements, as well as for mitigation of potentially harmful anthropogenic effects. However, there is demand for new, cost effective tools that allow scientists to monitor areas of interest autonomously with high temporal and spatial resolution in near-real time. Here we describe an autonomous underwater vehicle – a glider – equipped with an acoustic sensor and onboard data processing capabilities to passively scan an area for marine mammals in near-real time. The glider was tested extensively off the west coast of the Island of Hawai’i, USA. The instrument covered approximately 390 km during three weeks at sea and collected a total of 194 h of acoustic data. Detections of beaked whales were successfully reported to shore in near-real time. Manual analysis of the recorded data revealed a high number of vocalizations of delphinids and sperm whales. Furthermore, the glider collected vocalizations of unknown origin very similar to those made by known species of beaked whales. The instrument developed here can be used to cost-effectively screen areas of interest for marine mammals for several months at a time. The near-real-time detection and reporting capabilities of the glider can help to protect marine mammals during potentially harmful anthropogenic activities such as seismic exploration for sub-sea fossil fuels or naval sonar exercises. Furthermore, the glider is capable of under-ice operation, allowing investigation of otherwise inaccessible polar environments that are critical habitats for many endangered marine mammal species.


Klinck, H., D.K. Melinger, K. Klinck, N.M. Bogue, J.C. Luby, W.A. Jump, G.S. Shilling, T. Litchendorf, A.S. Wood, G.S. Schorr, and R.W. Baird. 2012. Near-Real-Time Acoustic Monitoring of Beaked Whales and Other Cetaceans Using a SeagliderTM. PLoS ONE 7(8): e36128. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0036128

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