Like us, whales sing. But unlike us, their songs can travel hundreds of miles underwater. Those songs potentially help them find a partner, communicate and migrate around the world. But what if we could use these songs and machine learning to better protect them?
Despite decades of being protected against whaling, 15 species of whales are still listed under the Endangered Species Act. Even species that are successfully recovering—such as humpback whales—suffer from threats like entanglement in fishing gear and collisions with vessels, which are among the leading causes of non-natural deaths for whales.
To better protect those animals, the first step is to know where they are and when, so that we can mitigate the risks they face—whether that’s putting the right marine protected areas in place or giving warnings to vessels. Since most whales and dolphins spend very little time at the surface of the water, visually finding and counting them is very difficult. This is why NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, responsible for monitoring populations of whales and other marine mammals in U.S. Pacific waters, relies instead on listening using underwater audio recorders.
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