Smart Whale Sounds Deployment

Smart Whale Sounds Project launched off South Coast of Ireland

Huawei Ireland supporting ground-breaking marine conservation study in the Celtic Sea

Ireland’s first real-time acoustic monitoring project of cetacean species (whales, dolphins and porpoise) was launched this week off the South Coast of Ireland, with the goal of creating a near real-time detection model for these species and examining the impact rising ocean noise pollution is having on Ireland’s marine life.

Led by Ocean Research and Conservation Association (ORCA) Ireland and supported by Rainforest Connection and Huawei Ireland, the first-of-its-kind project will monitor the acoustics of members of the cetacean species (whales, dolphins and porpoises) off the south coast of the island.

Following months of development, a 13ft 2 tonne specially designed data gathering buoy will be deployed 9KM off the coast of Baltimore, Co. Cork for the next twelve months as part of the project.  

Smart Whale Sounds Deployment

Attached to the buoy will be an autonomous hydrophone (underwater microphone) which will record whale species in real-time and train sophisticated machine learning models to identify different species calls. The data will be used to create a marine wildlife detection and classification model, which has the potential to be applied to other projects across the globe.

The Smart Whale Sounds project is being undertaken by Ocean Research & Conservation Association Ireland, a “for-impact” non-profit organisation based in Cork, in partnership with Rainforest Connection and supported by Huawei Ireland.

The south coast was chosen for the project because it is one of the world’s most important habitats for whales, dolphins and porpoises, the research group said. Members of the cetacean species visit the region to forage, rest and reproduce.

Ireland is home to 25 species of resident and migratory cetaceans, which account for 48pc of the country’s mammals and one-third of all cetaceans worldwide.

Emer Keaveney
Emer Keaveney, marine mammal ecologist with ORCA

The project’s lead researcher, Emer Keaveney, Marine Mammal Ecologist, Ocean Research & Conservation Association Ireland, is a marine mammal ecologist with ORCA. She said that higher levels of marine traffic – including container ships, speedboats and eco-tour operators – has resulted in a “significant noise pollution issue”.

“Increased levels of marine traffic from container ships, pleasure boats, speedboats and eco-tour operators has created a significant noise pollution issue.  Sound pollution causes as much damage to marine life as overfishing, pollution and climate change, and is believed to cause behavioural changes that interfere with the health and survival of the animals. Informed estimates suggest that ocean noise levels are at least 10 times higher today than they were a few decades ago.”

The Smart Whale Sounds project will provide a much greater understanding of what is happening on ocean floors – specifically helping with the identification and classification of species in Irish waters, their distribution and behaviour and how noise pollution is changing these patterns. In the long-term, it could potentially lead to the development of an early warning system that will enable ships to reduce their speed in time to lessen the considerable risk of whale ship strikes.

Huawei Ireland will be providing technological support and assistance as part of its global TECH4ALL initiative. TECH4ALL is Huawei’s digital inclusion initiative, using technology, applications and skills to empower people and organisations everywhere. Smart Whale Sounds is the first TECH4ALL project to be launched in Ireland and the first to focus on ocean and marine wildlife globally.

Commenting on the launch, Tony Yangxu, CEO Huawei Ireland said:

“Huawei has been a trusted partner for over 16 years in Ireland, and we are delighted to support the great work being done by ORCA Ireland. The Smart Whale Sounds project will see Ireland leading the way in using technology and data to have a greater understanding of marine life and help inform how best to manage potential marine protected areas.”

“Huawei Ireland is invested in ensuring digital inclusion goes beyond the doors of our company and reaches every corner of Ireland, and look forward to going on this voyage with the ORCA Ireland team.”

Concluding Rainforest Connection CEO Topher White said: “No matter where we look on earth, life expresses and asserts itself through sound. There’s no better way to tap into the subtlety and the essence of ecology than through how nature calls to itself.

To capture this at scale within our oceans, and harness the power of cloud-AI and big-data analysis to gather the ecological insight, is the beginning of an unprecedented era of ambitious scientific discovery and critical conservation work.”

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