Scientists have deployed a buoy 22 miles off the coast of New York’s Fire Island to monitor several species of great whales. The high-tech acoustic device will eavesdrop on the songs of the whales to better understand and safeguard their movements near two busy shipping lanes entering New York Harbor.
“We know they’re there, but we know very little about them,” said Howard Rosenbaum, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Ocean Giants Program. His organization, in collaboration with the New York Aquarium, has teamed up with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts on the research project.
Scientists recently deployed the buoy, which is four feet in diameter and has a mast that rises six feet above the surface south of Long Island. The buoy is connected to a weighted frame that sits 125 feet below on the sea floor. The frame features high-tech listening devices connected to an underwater microphone.
The devices will focus on obtaining data on the sounds of several species of baleen whales because they are endangered, said Mark Baumgartner of Woods Hole. The data will be transmitted to scientists nearly in real time, for analysis within about two hours, Rosenbaum said.
The buoy also will collect the sounds of other whales, but that information will be analyzed when the buoy is retrieved after a year, Baumgartner said.
The scientists noted that all whales rely on their acoustic environment to socialize and navigate, and that they are vulnerable to underwater noise, ship strikes and getting entangled in fishing gear.
The research might help prevent ship strikes and may be helpful as the federal government and New York state consider plans for placing a massive wind-energy farm offshore in coming years.
The buoy has been placed inside what is called the New York Bight, which features busy shipping lanes and lucrative fishing grounds. The bight is home to seven species of great whales, including the humpback — known for its acrobatics and long, haunting songs — and the blue.
The highly endangered North Atlantic right whale — one of the world’s rarest whale species — migrates through New York waters, and fin, sei, minke and sperm whales also have been seen or heard, the scientists said.
Similar buoys were deployed off the coasts of Massachusetts and Maine earlier in the year, and a Cornell University project has deployed near-real-time buoys in shipping lanes near Boston to help protect the animals from ship strikes, Baumgartner said.
Scientists around the world deploy listening devices to study whales, but the buoys off New York and New England are the only known projects that relay information almost immediately, he added.