AI Tries to Save the Whales
We head to the Pacific northwest to understand the obstacles that confront these endangered orcas and how researchers are using artificial intelligence to help orcas and humans to coexist. WHAT HAPPENED TO J thirty five or Tala wasn't an anomaly the southern resident cavs have been struggling to survive for some time they've been listed as endangered in both the US and Canada since the mid arts. But their numbers continue to fall in two, thousand five there were eight. Now there are just seventy two in the wild one lives in captivity. Their home waters in the sailor, see an elaborate network of channels that span the coasts of Seattle Vancouver from Olympia Washington in the south to the middle of Vancouver Island British Columbia in the north. The see encompasses puget sound the Strait of Georgia and the Strait of Juan De. FUCA. Much of it is rich in natural beauty and teeming with wildlife with rural shorelines backlit by tall evergreens and craggy. Hills. It's a magnet for nature lovers who crave inactive lifestyle, but the Pacific northwest has been getting crowded these paths few decades with people competing for space with the local wildlife as of two thousand twenty. Washington's population was nearly eight million and Vancouver's topped out at about two and a half million and is projected to grow. It's become a busy place. So you see things like Bald Eagles nesting next to satellite dishes in busy parking lots. Big. Ravens Beg for food next to cold press coffeeshops commuters hop on ferry boats here like people in other towns take the train or the car. On these trips they can sometimes spot the southern resident orcas milling about but a lot of the time the orchestra framed by ferry boats or container ships. The area's ports are growing along with the population. In twenty eighteen Porta Vancouver ship activity reached a record high and the port is undergoing numerous expansions. Increased. Commercial ship traffic on top of recreational boat activity is one of the biggest threats facing the whales that live here. This traffic causes numerous problems ships pollute the water, and they're loud under the waves. As we're about to find out the ocean is getting crowded and noisy, and it's negatively impacting the whales. Dr Lance Barrett Lennard is the director of the Marine Mammal Research Program at the Vancouver Aquarium. There's also a lot of heavy vessel traffic that comes in some of the going to the port of Vancouver some of the going to the port of Seattle unfortunately both both major west coast ports. have their roots running through. Southern Resident Critical Habitat. But the obvious problem he says is that more boats increase the chances that Wales will get hit. especially, if the boats are going fast. Whale is far less likely to be hit by ship that's running slow, and if it's running less than ten knots, a good chance to survive even if it is hit, that's just the facts. So regulators started issuing slowdown directives, it few areas these slowdowns are mandatory, but in the Pacific northwest or the orcas live, they remain mostly voluntary. Mariner say they want to avoid the ORCAS but there are business conflicts John? Berg. Is With Pacific, Merchant Shipping Association a Trade Group that represents about thirty shipping lines that do business along the Pacific coast. For a lot of ships. Schedule Integrity. Is. Paramount. and. So they need to be at a certain port at a certain day in a certain time. And so planning is essential especially since coming in late can mean higher fees and lost revenue. Mariners go back and forth about how quiet ships they talk about things like reducing noise by finding optimum speed or by retrofitting or upgrading vessels with more efficient quieter parts. They even say that in some cases slower vessels. Moore of Iraq. Now to researchers, this is a settled question, the faster ship the louder the ship. And it's the noise that is even more detrimental to the ORCAS than ship. Strikes. The underwater cacophony is mostly generated by ship's propeller. It releases vapor filled bubbles. ORCAS like all CETACEANS rely on echo location to communicate, made and find food. For ORCAS, it's how they find salmon as the ORCAS chase salmon they make clicking sounds that they send out into the ocean. The click then bounces off of the salmon and creates an echo, and that's how they know where the salmon are underwater noise pollution specialist. Dr Lindy Wildcard is an adjunct research associate at Dalhousie University in Halifax Nova Scotia Canada. CETACEANS are particularly vocal of the US sounds to find their prey actively using bio sonar. And the various noise sources that humans put into the ocean can affect. Wales and that they are masked, that is the sounds of interests are obliterated by by US adding this sort of acoustics smog of of noise so they can't hear as well. You can actually hear the masking that wildcard is talking about listen to this underwater recording of northern resident orcas who have different dialects from their neighbors, the southern resident or is this recording was provided by Orca lab a nonprofit research center based on Hanson Island near British. Columbia. Canada. Those. SQUEALS ARE ORCA calls. Here's what happens if you overlay their calls with recording of the ship underwater. It drowns out the ORCAS squeals. All you hear is ship noise. That's because the sound created by the ship is at the same high frequency ranges the ORCAS. It's kind of like being at a dinner party where people are talking over each other. But for the ORCAS, the increased sound means they'll lose their seat at the table. If the ORCAS can't hear themselves they can't hear the seminar and so they can't find food. And that can have far reaching impacts that affect the entire population. Their stress hormones can increase. with, noise with the seismic Airgun sounds they also reduce their vocalisations to the point of sometimes falling outright silent, which means they can't communicate with each other and that probably affects mating. If mayors could know where the ORCAS are. They could try to avoid that part of the ocean or at least slow down. So their engine noise doesn't drown the ORCAS OUT Ideally. They'd only have to go slow when the orcas were in the area, but it can be hard for ship captains to confirm where the whales are in fog rain or even under normal circumstances ship captains can't always see them they often miss them. So some conservationists along with the Canadian government installed underwater hydrophones in the Salish Sea along the coast of British Columbia near known ORCA HABITAT, they wanted to be able to track the ORCAS through their echo location calls. But remember how it works. Sound was drowned out by the ship's well, it's not just hard for the orchestra here. It's hard for the humans to. It can take people a long time to listen to all those recordings figuring out what is well sound, and what is this ship fish or other marine life sounds the orcas make noise at all hours of the day and night, and all of that sound even that record overnight has to be listened to by someone. Up. Next. How artificial intelligence can help speed this process up? And maybe find a solution for both the ships and the whales.