A New High-Tech Buoy Will Help Save New York’s Whales

In the waters off the coast of New York, researchers are using an acoustic buoy to track endangered whales

Jul 01, 2016 at 5:00 AM ET

Scientists have a new high-tech way to listen to whale songs. Last week, a group working for the Wildlife Conservation Society’s New York Aquarium and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) successfully deployed an acoustic monitoring buoy in the waters of New York. It will permit scientists to “eavesdrop” on the musical and endangered aquatic mammals.

The buoy, located 22 miles north of Fire Island between two shipping lanes entering New York Harbor, has a mast that extends six feet above the sea surface and is connected to a weighted frame that sits 125 feet below on the sea floor. Its frame contains a “hydrophone”—an acoustic instrument that records sounds with an underwater microphone—and the sounds detected are transmitted through the buoy to a satellite system. It was developed by WHOI engineers.

“This technology allows us to monitor the presence of several species of baleen whales in near real time, and to use that knowledge to better study and protect these endangered species in the extremely busy waters of the New York Bight,” said Mark Baumgartner, a marine ecologist and co-leader of the WCS-WHOI project, in a statement.

Similar buoys have been placed off the coasts of Massachusetts and Maine this year, but this real-time technology is being used for the first time in the waters of the New York Bight, which ranges from Montauk, New York and Cape May, New Jersey. These waters contain some of the most trafficked shipping lanes in the world, and are home to humpback and blue whales, as well as the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale.

“The acoustic buoy data will help us to better understand when and where whales are present in New York’s waters, particularly in those places where we have little information on how whales are affected by ship traffic and ocean noise,” said Howard Rosenbaum, director of WCS’s Oceans Giants Program, in a statement. “When used in conjunction with other surveys and technologies, this buoy will give us a more holistic picture on how whales use this marine habitat, and how to better protect whales in our backyard.”