Floating device deployed off Chile to protect whales from ships

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A device floating in the waters off the coast of southern Chile aims to collect data on nearby whales to protect them from passing ships.

The first electronics buoy was recently put out to sea in the Gulf of Corcovado, about 1,100 kilometers from the capital, Santiago.

The device is designed to listen to the sounds made by whales when they communicate with each other. Animals use sound to map their movements and hunt.

A mechanical excavator lifts a buoy called to help avoid collisions between ships and whales in the “Corcovado” gulf area on the coast of Chiloe, Chile, October 10, 2022. (Fundacion MERI/Handout)

Sounds are processed by artificial intelligence computer systems powered by (AI) for the purpose of identifying the whereabouts of animals. This information is then sent to marine operators to help them avoid crashing into the whales.

A non-profit organization called Blue Boat Initiative put the buoy in place. The group seeks to develop and deploy technological tools to provide an alert system to shipping companies. In addition to helping protect whales, the ‘smart’ buoy also collects data on ocean health and the effects of climate change.

A boat carries a buoy to help avoid collisions between ships and whales in the gulf area

A boat carries a buoy to help avoid collisions between ships and whales in the “Corcovado” gulf area on the coast of Chiloe, Chile, October 10, 2022. (Fundacion MERI/Handout via REUTERS)

The group plans to place a series of buoys along the path the whales take on their journeys from Antarctica to the equator. The Gulf of Corcovado is rich in marine life, including large numbers of blue whales, as well as bowhead and southern right whales. All of these whales are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The region’s whale population is highest during the summer season in the southern hemisphere.

In 2008, Chile banned whaling activities, including whaling for scientific purposes. The country has established a number of protected areas for whales and other endangered species species.

“It’s the start of a longer road,” said Sonia Espanol, director of Blue Boat Initiative. She noted that her team plans to cover the gulf with at least six buoys. “The idea is to be able to cover the whole migration itinerary whales from Antarctica to the equator,” Espanol said.

Workers place a buoy to help avoid vessel collisions with whales in the Gulf area

Workers place a buoy to help avoid ship collisions with whales in the “Corcovado” gulf area on the coast of Chiloe, Chile, October 10, 2022. (Fundacion MERI/Handout via REUTERS)

The buoy operates using software called Listening to the Deep Ocean Environment (LIDO). The device permanently monitors sounds of the ocean. It uses AI to identify the type of whales and where they are in real time. It then sends messages to nearby ships so they can reduce noise levels and try to avoid accidents.

The buoys also contain sensors to measure water temperature, oxygen levels and more to predict ocean health and the effects of climate change. This information should be used to help guide public environmental policies.

In the United States, scientists have recently deployed a similar whale alert system off the US West Coast. This system, called Whale Safe, also uses buoys to identify the presence of whales.

I am Brian Lynn.

Reuters reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English.

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words in this story

buoy – nm a buoyant object used in water to mark dangerous areas for boats

artificial intelligence – nm the development of computer systems with the ability to perform work that normally requires human intelligence

species nm a group of animals or plants that are similar and can produce young animals or plants

itinerary -not. the way something or someone regularly travels

monitor v. look carefully at something and record the results

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