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New AWI thermal imaging system helps researchers to protect large whales from noise around the clock

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Posted August 13, 2013
After coming up for air an Antarctic mink whale is descending underneath the sea ice of the Weddell Sea. Mink whales are the biggest winter inhabitants of the antarctic sea ice. They measure up to 10 meters in lenght and weight up to 10 metric tons. Nevertheless, they belong to the smaller members of the family of plankton feeding baleen whales. Credit: Photo: Mario Hoppmann, Alfred-Wegener-Institut

After coming up for air an Antarctic mink whale is descending underneath the sea ice of the Weddell Sea. Mink whales are the biggest winter inhabitants of the antarctic sea ice. They measure up to 10 meters in lenght and weight up to 10 metric tons. Nevertheless, they belong to the smaller members of the family of plankton feeding baleen whales. Credit: Photo: Mario Hoppmann, Alfred-Wegener-Institut

Physicists at the Alfred Wegener Institute, the Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, successfully tested a thermal imaging system aboard the research vessel Polarstern. The system automatically detects large whales by their spouts, day or night from distances up to five kilometres. As the scientists report in a recent study published in the journal PLOS ONE, the system detected significantly more whales than researchers using binoculars to spot the animals.

Pile driving during construction of wind farms and the use of airguns when searching for oil and gas unavoidably result in noise pollution in the surrounding area. To ensure that marine mammals are not harmed when in the close vicinity of these activities,regulatory authorities request so-called mitigation measures for their protection. One of such measures requires airguns to be switched off or pile driving to be stopped when whales approach the respective sound source too closely. Yet how to monitor the surrounding seas for whales around the clock – and that for weeks and weeks?

Humans obviously face clear limits: “Whoever has looked at the sea for any length of time, knows how quickly the eyes get tired and concentration dwindles. In addition: we cannot look in all directions at the same time and at night we virtually see nothing. Therefore it has been difficult, especially at night, to spot whales near vessels or marine platforms,” says Dr. Daniel Zitterbart, a physicist at the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI).

 

Read more at: Phys.org

 

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