Below the Pacific Ocean floor lies a credit-card-sized underwater microphone that’s helping protect Earth’s largest mammals off of the Northern California coast.
With 70 fatal whale-ship collisions recorded off the California coast from 2007 to 2020, 49 of which are whales categorized as endangered species, efforts to reduce and help prevent these tragic accidents from occurring have been set in motion. One solution that is currently being implemented is to track the location of whales and vessels in areas the two often collide with the help of an underwater microphone and Whale Safe technology.
Unlike a regular microphone, an underwater microphone formally called a hydrophone, is heavily shielded to remain waterproof, corrosion-resistant, and durable enough to withstand high levels of salinity. Said underwater microphone is placed 280 feet below the Pacific Ocean floor and is located just 26 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge to pick up calls from blue, humpback, and fin whales feeding and swimming off the Northern California coast.
The calls picked up by the underwater microphone will be transmitted to a buoy on the surface to help experts identify the kind of whales that are nearby and their exact location every two hours. Concurrently, these data are transmitted to nearby ships that will be passing through intersection points with the whales to prevent any collisions from happening.
Aside from finding out the location of the whales, the Whale Safe technology, with the help of the underwater microphone, also monitors the speed of vessels passing through whale habitats to see if they are adhering to the recommended slower speed of 10 knots, especially during migrating seasons. Although initial responses to the voluntary vessel speed reduction program were not that great back in 2017, more ships have started cooperating this 2020 with a 64% voluntary rate.
Although whales have a different language from us humans, placing a microphone underwater has helped us hear their calls. One can hope that widespread implementation of the Whale Safe technology and the placing of underwater microphones in common whale-ship intersections will be well underway soon to further help protect these endangered species all over the world.