Machine learning can help protect endangered right whales

New technology developed by the University of East Anglia (UEA) could lead to added protection for one of the world’s most endangered whale species.

UEA researchers have developed machine learning techniques in partnership with the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) and the marine survey company Gardline Geosurvey Limited, which can be used to detect the presence of North Atlantic right whales by listening for the sounds they make underwater.

This means that whales could be detected before they reach close proximity to large vessels or enter a mitigation zone, hence protecting the animals and avoiding costly shutdowns of offshore operations.

The findings, “Robust North Atlantic right whale detection using deep learning models for denoising,” were published in a special edition on machine learning in acoustics, in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.

Dr. Ben Milner of UEA’s School of Computing Sciences said: “The aim of this work is to develop robust methods of detecting marine mammals from passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) devices in challenging environments.

“Having the ability to deploy an automated system—whether it be on buoys, Autonomous Surface Vehicles (ASVs), or gliders—that can achieve high levels of detection in real-time is vital to the long-term future of right whales.

“Being able to reliably detect marine mammals is important for population monitoring and for mitigation, as many species are endangered and protected by environmental laws.”

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