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It wasn’t until very recently that scientists became aware of the soundscape of the ocean and how reliant animals are on it. Despite this, humans are contaminating this environment with more and more noise with things like sonar, seismic blasts, and ship engines.  

Source: Science Magazine/YouTube

This has led to animals struggling to find food, communicate with each other, hearing loss, and is believed to be the cause of whale-ship collisions. In the past 15 years, at least 1,200 of these incidents have been recorded, but the number is likely far greater than that.   

“Sound is life in the ocean,” says Michel Andre, Director of the Laboratory of Applied Bio-Acoustics at BarcelonaTech. “If we pollute this channel of communication… we are condemning the ocean to irreversible change.”  

Luckily, new technology has been created by Andre and his colleagues that may help reduce these collisions. Listen to the Deep Ocean Environment (LIDO) is the name of the software that tracks sounds in the ocean and identifies who or what they’re coming from.  

This month, LIDO will be attached to a buoy and submerged off the coast of Chile. If a whale is detected, alerts will be sent to nearby ships, which will allow them to change direction or slow down. The slower speeds will create less noise and in turn, allow the whales to use their biological sonar to better detect the location of the ships to avoid them.  

The acoustic buoys will also be able to gather information like temperature and oxygen levels that will allow scientists to study how climate change is affecting the ocean. Whale populations can be studied too and more species can be identified as more data is gathered.   

“Every whale has a unique sound,” says Sonia Espanol-Jimenez, the executive director of MERI Foundation. 

The goal is to employ more and more of these buoys around South America and other places around the world, according to Espanol-Jimenez. MERI created the Blue Boat Initiative, the program responsible for launching the buoy.  

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) has created a similar technology and has been utilized in California and Georgia waters. Susannah Buchanan, who works with WHOI, believes these technologies offer great possibilities but warns people to not view them as a “silver bullet” and to make sure other strategies are employed. 

This may be true, but this is certainly an important step forward. It will help us learn more about marine animals, protect them, and gauge the health of the ocean. It may also help influence government policy. 

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