New detection technology assists protection of marine mammals at offshore energy sites

A new instrument to detect whales, dolphins and other marine mammals, and provide immediate alerts during the development of offshore wind, wave and tidal installations, has been showcased to an international audience at the University of St Andrews, Scotland.

PAMBuoy™ was originally developed by SMRU Ltd, a marine mammal consultancy which is a commercial spin out from the world renowned Sea Mammal Research Unit at the university. PAMBuoy™ is a cutting edge autonomous passive acoustic monitoring system for marine mammals. It operates 24/7 to automatically detect and classify vocalising marine mammals – whales, dolphins and porpoises, providing high resolution data that can be used to identify species present and determine temporal patterns in use.

The units are being manufactured by Marine Instrumentation Ltd, and the team has just made its first commercial sale to an engineering consultancy in Australia. Says Dr Gordon Hastie, a marine mammal scientist who assisted the development team: “PAMBuoy™ is a revolution in marine mammal monitoring. It is a cutting edge, autonomous, passive acoustic monitoring device, which should help mitigate potential impacts on marine mammals from offshore activities.”

PAMBuoy™ “listens” for marine life, then delivers information about what’s swimming beneath, in real time back to a customer’s desk top, mobile phone or other hand held device, and if mounted in a buoy, derives its power from the sun via solar panels. Data is checked automatically for quality, and made available to clients immediately through secured parts of the PAMBuoy™ website

Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM) is the term used to describe the process of passively listening for sounds emitted by animals. Small cetaceans such as harbour porpoises, and other dolphin species can be extremely difficult to observe in the wild as they spend the majority of their time underwater, generally occur in small groups, and often present a low profile at the surface. These species are much easier to detect acoustically, as they regularly produce sounds for orientation, navigation, foraging and communication. The blue whale makes a low frequency moan, dolphins whistle and harbour porpoises emit high frequency echo-location clicks! PAM can be used to collect data continuously whatever the weather, day or night, and is a research tool which is increasingly considered for monitoring and mitigation purposes during industrial and high risk activity in the marine environment as well as for behavioural and population research.

Source: PAMBuoy Press Release, 27th September 2012.

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