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Images: Buoys Help Avert Whale-Ship Collisions

The remnant population of less than 400 North Atlantic right whales is threatened with collisions from increasing ship traffic in the coastal waters where they feed and calve. (Photo by Harriet Corbett, New England Aquarium)

Shipping lanes to and from East Coast ports cut through North Atlantic right whale feeding and calving areas and migration routes. (Map by Jim Canavan, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

WHOI biologist Michael Moore is dwarfed by this 50-ton, 45-foot female right whale named Staccato, which was found off Wellfleet, Mass., in 1999. A necropsy showed fatal injuries from a ship collision: a broken jaw, fractured vertebrae, damage to the left fin, and internal bleeding. (Moira Brown, New England Aquarium)

Located 16 miles off Boston, Excelerate Energy’s Northeast Gateway Deepwater Port has two flexible pipelines called “risers,” connected at one end to a new undersea pipeline that ties into a natural gas pipeline on shore. The risers are attached to buoys that ships carrying liquefied natural gas (LNG) retrieve and bring on board. The LNG cargo is re-gasified and pumped down the riser and through the pipeline. (Courtesy of Excelerate Energy)

Hydrophones on mooring lines could detect whale sounds. The problem was that in often violent seas, surface buoys moved up and down, pulling the lines so that the sound of water whooshing past the hydrophones overwhelmed all other sounds. To solve the problem, WHOI engineers designed a two-tiered mooring line, separated by a steel flotation sphere. In rough seas (right panel), the tough, stretchable “Gumby hose” on top acts like a bungee cord, absorbing the pulls of the surface buoy. The bottom line is decoupled from the movements of the top line; it remains a stable, quiet platform for the hydrophone. (Illustration by E. Paul Oberlander, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Ten auto-detection whale buoy systems line the Boston shipping lanes, each five miles apart so that the listening radius of each hydrophone overlaps. Data are relayed to a command-and-control center at Cornell, where analysts validate the presence of right whales and alert ships to slow down and watch for whales. Three other mooring systems monitor whales in Cape Cod Bay. (Map by Jim Canavan, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Engineering assistants Paul Fraser (top), Jim Dunn (center), and Kris Newhall assemble surface buoys for auto-detection mooring systems in the Coastal Research Laboratory at WHOI. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

An auto-detection whale buoy is deployed off Boston. The surface buoy at right remains above the waves. An anchor will pull the subsurface flotation sphere (left) down to 10 to 20 meters beneath the surface, where it will hold up a lower mooring line that holds a hydrophone to record sounds in the ocean, including whale calls. (Matthew Barton, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

In 1999, coastal managers began to systematically use planes and boats to look for right whales so they could give advisories to ships. “We wanted to explore whether listening for whales might be a far better way to detect them,” said Christopher Clark, director of the Bioacoustics Research Program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. (Courtesy of Chris Clark)

Hydrophones could listen for whale calls, but they hung on a mooring line “that clanked and yanked,” making noise that overwhelmed the whale sounds, said John Kemp, head of at-sea operations for the WHOI Mooring Operations, Engineering, and Field Support Group (right). A remarkably strong and stretchable mooring line developed by WHOI Senior Engineer Walter Paul (left) helped solve the problem. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

WHOI Senior Engineer Don Peters and colleagues replaced noisy couplings throughout the mooring system with hard-bolted mechanical connections that reduced noise and solved the “two-Dixie-cups-and-a-string problem.” Sound travels efficiently along any tense string, such as a mooring line. Any mechanical noise on the line would be picked up by the hydrophones. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

WHOI Senior Scientist Mark Grosenbaugh and his graduate students have developed a computer program that can simulate the forces that can act on moorings—buoyancy, gravity, currents, waves, drag, and so on. “I build a numerical mooring, stick it in a numerical ocean, and calculate all the forces on each of the components,” he said. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

David Wiley, research coordinator of NOAA Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary off Boston, was a driving force recommending that the Cornell/WHOI auto-detection buoy system be implemented in the Boston shipping lanes. “While realizing our goal to make the marine sanctuary safer,” Wiley added, “we also advanced pioneering techniques such as this system, which can be exported to other places with similar problems and conservation needs.”

The stern of the research vessel Connecticut is filled with surface buoys for the Cornell/WHOI auto-detection whale system, ready to be deployed in the Boston harbor shipping lanes. (Matthew Barton, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)