Noise scanner could save whales


Apr 24, 2007

Hundreds of whales and dolphins could be saved thanks to a new listening system designed by Plymouth University.

The equipment, which is towed behind a ship, scans for calls and songs to pinpoint their exact location.

Scientists, who launched a prototype in Plymouth on Tuesday, hope that the equipment will become integral to seismic survey equipment.

Conservationists think underwater explosions used in surveying could be behind the beaching of whales.

No evidence

The system uses marine microphones, or hydrophones, to scan the seabed, listening for whale and dolphin sounds which are then recorded on to a computer.

These sounds are then analysed to tell seismic operators if there are whales and dolphins in the area.

There are more than 100 seismic surveys a year in British waters, each one involving dozens of blasts.

The government-funded research by the university's School of Earth, Ocean and Environmental Sciences (SCOES), is based at marine surveyors WGP in Bude.

Dr Victor Abbott, a lecturer at SCOES, said existing listening equipment used by surveyors was "rubbish".

He said: "At the moment hydrophones are towed separately to the seismic equipment behind survey ships. It is expensive and takes a lot of time.

"We aim to put the hydrophones in the cables of the seismic equipment, so it is one integrated unit."

Research leader Ross Compton, who launched the prototype in Plymouth Sound on Tuesday, admitted no evidence had been found of the link between seismic activity and whale strandings.

But the new equipment would increase precautions against such incidents.

He said: "It's something a lot of people are concerned about. The issue has come to the fore in the last 10 or 15 years.

"It is about being cautious and making sure that surveyors have as little effect as possible on marine life."