Skip to main content

New acoustic mapping system can instantly find all whales in a 60,000-mile patch of ocean

hydrophone tech maps whales ocean humpback whale
Image used with permission by copyright holder
Even if you don’t know a whole lot about whales, you probably have some sense that they’re one of the ocean’s noisiest creatures. From Dory’s whale songs in Finding Nemo to the soothing whale calls on your relaxation sounds app, whale music has something of a reputation. And now a researcher from Northeastern University has developed a way to use whale songs to instantly detect and locate any species of whale in an ocean sample up to 100,000 square kilometers.

The whale mapping technique is called Passive Ocean Acoustic Waveguide Remote Sensing (POAWRS). Purnima Ratilal was studying military sonar when she discovered that while fish got in the way of enemy sub detection, the tech would allow for specific mapping of marine mammals. In 2006, Ratilal employed her new technique with two ships in the Gulf of Maine. One ship emitted sound waves, and the other was equipped with a string of 160 hydrophones to detect the echoes rebounding off 250 million herring. While studying the huge school of herring, Ratilal and her team discovered that their recordings were also picking up whale calls.

Since each species of whale sings within a distinct frequency range, the research team was able to identify which whale species was feeding in each area of the herring school. The recordings allowed Ratilal to distinguish the specific locations of eight different species of whale: blue, fin, humpback, sei, minke, sperm, pilot, and killer. Each species remained in a separated area of the feeding frenzy, but there is still no definitive science to explain why whales stick to their own turf.

Lead researcher Purnima Ratilal says that the passive element of her system is its most distinguishing feature. “Ours is the only technique that can instantaneously monitor marine mammal and fish populations over very large areas”, Ratilal told The Atlantic. Sound waves and reverberating echoes allow the field team to locate fish, but whales are so loud that all the researchers have to do is listen. In the future, Ratilal hopes to be able to use whale call recordings and geo-locating data from the POAWRS system to track mating season, feeding times, and other behaviors specific to each whale species.

Chloe Olewitz
Chloe is a writer from New York with a passion for technology, travel, and playing devil's advocate. You can find out more…
The best portable power stations
EcoFlow DELTA 2 on table at campsite for quick charging.

Affordable and efficient portable power is a necessity these days, keeping our electronic devices operational while on the go. But there are literally dozens of options to choose from, making it abundantly difficult to decide which mobile charging solution is best for you. We've sorted through countless portable power options and came up with six of the best portable power stations to keep your smartphones, tablets, laptops, and other gadgets functioning while living off the grid.
The best overall: Jackery Explorer 1000

Jackery has been a mainstay in the portable power market for several years, and today, the company continues to set the standard. With three AC outlets, two USB-A, and two USB-C plugs, you'll have plenty of options for keeping your gadgets charged.

Read more
CES 2023: HD Hyundai’s Avikus is an A.I. for autonomous boat and marine navigation
Demonstration of NeuBoat level 2 autonomous navigation system at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show

This content was produced in partnership with HD Hyundai.
Autonomous vehicle navigation technology is certainly nothing new and has been in the works for the better part of a decade at this point. But one of the most common forms we see and hear about is the type used to control steering in road-based vehicles. That's not the only place where technology can make a huge difference. Autonomous driving systems can offer incredible benefits to boats and marine vehicles, too, which is precisely why HD Hyundai has unveiled its Avikus AI technology -- for marine and watercraft vehicles.

More recently, HD Hyundai participated in the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, to demo its NeuBoat level 2 autonomous navigation system for recreational boats. The name mashes together the words "neuron" and "boat" and is quite fitting since the Avikus' A.I. navigation tech is a core component of the solution, it will handle self-recognition, real-time decisions, and controls when on the water. Of course, there are a lot of things happening behind the scenes with HD Hyundai's autonomous navigation solution, which we'll dive into below -- HD Hyundai will also be introducing more about the tech at CES 2023.

Read more
This AI cloned my voice using just three minutes of audio
acapela group voice cloning ad

There's a scene in Mission Impossible 3 that you might recall. In it, our hero Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) tackles the movie's villain, holds him at gunpoint, and forces him to read a bizarre series of sentences aloud.

"The pleasure of Busby's company is what I most enjoy," he reluctantly reads. "He put a tack on Miss Yancy's chair, and she called him a horrible boy. At the end of the month, he was flinging two kittens across the width of the room ..."

Read more