Glider May Be The Key To Right Whale Survival

By Ben Hamill - November 05 2020
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Glider May Be The Key To Right Whale Survival

An underwater acoustic glider has proven to be successful at detecting the presence of North Atlantic right whales migrating to and from Canadian waters. The technology, which was developed by the University of New Brunswick in association with federal government and specifically Transport Canada, within the very first 24 hours in operation managed to detect a right whale and send out the necessary signals so as to prompt a slowdown of ships in the corresponding area.

According to Michelle Sanders, Director of Clean Water Policy with Transport Canada, the glider is proving to be a truly valuable instrument in the real-time detection of right whales, and as such, is considered one of this year’s major successes.  

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Slowdowns Proven Effective

The plan now, said Sanders, is to next year, deploy at least two acoustic gliders as part of the department’s own monitoring systems.

Transport Canada made a lot of progress this year – including the lowering of speed limits for all ships exceeding 13 metres. Compared to last year’s 20 metres, Sanders said she considered the new limitations to be a show of efficiency on government’s part. A restricted area around the Shediac Valley has also been declared a no-go by government – with speed limits in the immediate vicinity of the corridor lowered to 10 knots.

Speeding ships have been identified as a leading killer of right whales in U.S. and Canadian waters. Thankfully, no right whales have been killed in Canadian waters this year.

There’s No “Single” Solution

The deployment of the glider was delayed by at least two months because of the challenges of the global health crisis, said Sanders. Even so, now that deployment has taken place and delivered the results that it has, Sanders says it is becoming more and more clear that success in ensuring the right whale’s survival depends not one thing alone, but on a combination of several pieces of technology and approaches. There is no magic potion or silver bullet, said the Transport Canada director.

In addition to the glider, the scientists also used a drone. And while the drone was able to cover a much larger area than the glider, Sander said it failed to spot any right whales this year. Even so, the fact that it did manage to detect several other species – including fin whales, basking sharks, and humpback whales – shows that the technology is working and that it could emerge a valuable tool in the long term.

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