Voice over IP for Whales

One of the reasons making the study of ocean depths so difficult is that light attenuates in water, as Peter Andrey Smith pointed out in last issue’s Solutions section. Sound, on the other hand, can be particularly illuminating. In “Listening in on 100 Million Fish,” he wrote about a retrofitted Cold War sonar technology that can detect giant schools of fish by bouncing sound waves off their swim bladders.

Sound is also a key to understanding whale behavior. A submarine twist on voice over IP is now being used to monitor humpback whales off Canada’s Pacific coast in real time.

The British Columbia–based, nonprofit conservation group, Pacific Wild, has deployed four hydrophones to capture whale calls and other ocean sound, then stream it over the Internet. With technical expertise provided by Swiss audio-over-IP company Barix, scientists can listen 24/7 to variations in whale songs and analyze the effects of underwater noise on whale behavior with 16-bit MP3 audio.

Tune into the live stream and hear selected whale song recordings at pacificwild.org.