New system automatically classifies undersea noises in real time


December 19, 2010

A new algorithmic system that automatically identifies underwater sounds in real time has been developed to ascertain if whales are affected by undersea noise pollution (Photo: NOAA)

A new algorithmic system that automatically identifies underwater sounds in real time has been developed to ascertain if whales are affected by undersea noise pollution (Photo: NOAA)

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It’s always upsetting to hear about whales beaching themselves, and one of the leading theories on the phenomenon suggests that it may sometimes be due to noise pollution in the oceans. Whales navigate and communicate via sound, so it’s entirely possible that human-introduced noises (such as those produced by ships, oil rigs, or naval navigational beacons) could confuse them, and throw them off course – it has even been posited that noises such as military sonar could deafen or kill them. In an effort to better understand the link between ocean noises and whale well-being, researchers from Spain’s Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) have developed a first-ever system that identifies undersea sounds – both human and cetacean – in real time.

Underwater microphones known as hydrophones have been used for some time, to listen in on whale song and other underwater sounds and there are numerous marine research institutes around the world that have hydrophones continuously monitoring local waters. Until now, however, the audio files from these instruments had to be loaded onto hard drives and analyzed after the fact, to figure out exactly what had been recorded.

Researchers from the UPC’s Applied Bioacoustics Laboratory have now created algorithms that automatically classify the sounds picked up by hydrophones in real time, to the point of even being able to identify the species of whales present. It’s part of the lab’s Listening to the Deep Ocean Environment (LIDO) program that began in 2007, which continuously monitors 13 hydrophones located on 10 undersea platforms around the world. Scientists or laypeople can now hear live audio from any of those sites on the LIDO website, which displays a color-coded key for identifying the sources of the various sounds.

Using the LIDO system, UPC scientists hope to once and for all ascertain if human noises in a given area are linked to local whale beachings or injuries. If they are, UPC has already suggested the implementation of an alarm system – buoys or underwater robots would detect if whales were approaching high-noise areas, and automatically initiate response protocols to lessen or eliminate those noises.

The development is a timely one, as the EU has ruled that all member states must comply with a set of marine noise pollution measurement guidelines before 2012.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

What the classifications for \"That is not dead that immortal lies; and with strange millennia even death may die? Ph\'nglui mglw\'nafh Cthulhu R\'lyeh wgah\'nagl fhtagn!\"

Ian Gould

I\'ve been of the opinion that sonar...allbeit sonar military ,...any and all,whales have acute hearing,this sonar is much to loud for them!In humans our balence is or can easily be affected adversely bythe ear drum having been punctured or ruptured even slightly by sound or reverberration of by sound or between the ears is our balance.I am of the opinion that any and all whales found beached should be checked for irritation or damage to the ear canal on at least the lead whale,it must be terribly dissorientating to say the least.Then investigate all marine traffic including military as their sonar must be more powerful and far reaching.I would equate it to bad rap music on sunday morning reeeeaaaal loud....regards ,Thayer William Smith\" gilligans isle \"


This may lead to an answer for the question I\'ve had in mind recently; Do whales have songs that they pass on and if we find out that they do will communication become available between our species?

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