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UEA scientists using robots to detect whales in deep ocean

Marine robots being used to detect whales in the deep ocean Credit: UEA

Scientists at the University of East Anglia have been recording the sounds made by deep sea whales off the coast of northern Scotland using a fleet of pioneering marine robots.

They were deployed to explore the seas near the Orkney Islands in search of marine mammals and sources of man-made noise pollution.

"This successful trial clearly demonstrates how marine robots can be used to listen for noise in the ocean. It was particularly exciting to record a sperm whale, and my analysis has revealed that it was probably about 12 m long and present in an area of the deep Faroe-Shetland Channel. "

– Pierre Cauchy, PhD student at UEA
The robots were deployed to explore the seas northwest of the Orkney Islands Credit: UEA

The robots were deployed to explore the seas northwest of the Orkney Islands in search of marine mammals and sources of man-made noise pollution.

It was part of an annual series of marine robot trials co-ordinated by the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) in partnership with 16 organisations representing UK government, research and industry.

The robots remained at sea for two weeks and were controlled remotely by pilots who communicated with the vehicles via satellite.

The fleet comprised of eight submarine gliders and three unmanned surface vehicles, travelling up to 200km offshore to the Faroe-Shetland Channel where water depths exceeded 1000m.

As well as listening for ocean noise, the vehicles also collected high quality environmental data including ocean temperature, salinity, tidal currents, plankton abundance, weather and wave conditions.

"This is the largest fleet of marine robots to be deployed in UK offshore waters. The mission gathered a huge amount of useful data, including the sounds of several marine mammals. These data can help us to identify important biodiversity hotspots, and assess the potential impacts of noise pollution on marine animals."

– Prof Russell Wynn, Mission co-ordinator