Newly installed acoustic monitoring buoys are helping to alert mariners to the existence of right whales in a bid to protect the endangered animals. 

Whale-saving buoy

Whale-saving buoy

French shipping firm CMA CGM, working with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), deployed the first one 33 miles off the coast of the US state of Virginia, a heavily trafficked route, in July.

A second buoy has now been installed off the coast of Georgia, another busy route that puts ships directly in the paths of migrating whales.

“Each species of whale creates its own unique calls, and the buoys are equipped with an instrument that transmits information about detected sounds to shore every two hours,” says the technology developer WHOI.

”The technology can detect, classify, and report the sounds of marine mammals in near real-time, and the data is analysed by an acoustician to determine which species are present.

“Results are displayed publicly and shared with mariners. This enables dynamic protections, including NOAA’s Slow Zones for Right Whales, which are areas with voluntary vessel-speed restrictions along the eastern seaboard that are established when right whales are detected.”


Eubalaena glacialis, or right whale, with calf

According to the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), there are fewer than 400 right whales - so named because they move slowly and float once killed, therefore were considered the ‘right’ whale to hunt - left in the North Atlantic.

National Geographic says right whales are the rarest of all large whales, with several species all identified by enormous heads. they can grow to 50 feet in length and 70 tonnes in weight.

Whaling is no longer the main reason for the animals’ decline - this is down to being hit by vessels or getting entangled in fishing gear, the NOAA says, adding that human-made ocean noise could also interfere with communication.

The new buoys will bring the total number along the east coast of North America to eight, stretching from Martha’s Vineyard in northern Massachusetts down to Savannah in Georgia.