Thursday, October 9, 2008

AIS helps save the whales

This weekend I helped Kurt replace an AIS transponder out at the Cape Cod National Seashore's Province Lands Visitors Center.  The transponder is an integral part of the current effort to help save the North Atlantic right whales.  

The setup was located down in the basement, in a room that the ranger refered to as the "zombie room." The small grey box on the left rack next to the white keypad is the transponder unit (photo credit: Kurt). 

The AIS antenna and a weather station are located on the roof of the visitors center (photo credit: Kurt). 

So what is AIS and how can it help the whales? 

Big tanker ships are all equipped with their own AIS transponders. These transponders not only broadcasts the ship's identifying information and location, but also receives AIS messages from other ships as well as port/harbor authorities. Just like the port/habor AIS systems transmit information about vessel traffic, the transponder at the Cape is transmitting information about right whale sightings. The next step is to create a patch for current AIS software run on the ships so that it can correctly decode the whale message and display the proper information on the navigation display. 

So where does  the right whale sighting information come from? 

The right whale listening network is comprised of 13 smart buoys that listen for whales 24 hours a day. The buoys have a listening radius of five nautical miles. The line of 10 buoys within the TSS provides full coverage for a 55-mile stretch of the commercial shipping lanes into and out ofBoston Harbor. When a whale call is detected, the buoys upload the data via cell or satellite phone to a server at Cornell.  Analysts at Cornell listen to the uploaded sound clips to verify the authenticity of the whale call. They continuously issue updates via websites and alerts to the ships. Time from detection at the buoy to posting on the site can be as short as 20 minutes.

In addition, whales spotted by vessels can also be called in to NOAA and the Coast Guard. 

No comments:

Post a Comment