Smart buoy 'hears' the sea to protect whales against ship collisions

The AI-powered devices help vessels steer clear.

REUTERS/Fabian Cambero

Whales face numerous threats from humans, not the least of which are ship collisions — the World Sustainability Organization estimates 18,000 to 25,000 animals die each year. There may be a technological way to minimize those deaths, however. Reuters reports Chile's government and the MERI Foundation have deployed the first smart buoy from the Blue Boat Initiative, an effort to both safeguard whales and track undersea ecosystems. The device, floating in the Gulf of Corcovado 684 miles away from Chile, alerts ships to nearby blue, humpback, right and sei whales to help avoid incidents.

The technology uses oceanographic sensors and AI-powered Listening to the Deep Ocean Environment (LIDO) software to determine a waterborne mammal's type and location. It also checks the ocean's health by monitoring oxygen levels, temperature and other criteria. That extra data could help study climate change and its impact on sea life.

The Blue Boat Initiative currently aims to install six or more buoys to protect whales across the gulf. In the long term, though, project members hope to blanket the whales' complete migratory route between Antarctica and the equator. This could reduce collisions across the creatures' entire habitat, not to mention better inform government decisions about conservation and the environment.

The technology may be as important for humans as for the whales. On top of their roles in delicately balanced ecosystems, whales both help capture CO2 and redistribute heat through ocean currents. The more these animals are allowed to flourish, the better the ocean is at limiting global warming and its harmful effects.