Whale music: Speakers allow public to listen to soundtrack of the sea

While underwater microphones have allowed researchers to track the sounds and locations of marine mammals for years, the public can now listen to “whale music” on Vancouver Island. Kristen Robinson has more on how and where humans can hear the soundtrack from beneath the waves.

While underwater microphones have allowed researchers to track the sounds of marine mammals for years, the public can now listen to ‘whale music’ on Vancouver Island through speakers set up in at least two coastal locations.

West of Victoria, a hydrophone or underwater microphone 15 metres offshore from the Sheringham Point Lighthouse in Shirley, B.C. has been recording the soundtrack of the Salish Sea for more than a decade.

When the Lighthouse Society recently took over maintenance and operation of the site from the Canadian Coast Guard, Fisheries and Oceans Canada said it worked with them to install a speaker on the lighthouse platform.

When marine mammals are nearby, the public can hear their songs while observing them.

“I think whales are just such a majestic creature,” one lighthouse visitor told Global News.

“It’s so cool just to be able to hear their sound – it’s awesome.”

Fisheries and Oceans Canada marine mammal rescue coordinator Paul Cottrell said the area is a corridor for Humpback and Southern resident killer whales, Dall’s porpoises, and Pacific white-sided dolphins.

“It really picks up all the cetaceans that are acoustically active as they’re passing, which is amazing,” Cottrell told Global News.

Earlier this month, Southern resident killer whales were auto-detected by the hydrophone at Sheringham Lighthouse as they headed to inshore waters.

“It’s actually a real-time killer whale detection site for us, so really important,” Cottrell added.

“If there’s an ailing or injured whale, we want to be able to know where that animal is and be able to track that and monitor and assess.”

The Sheringham Point Lighthouse is part of a broader tracking network.

Hydrophones are set up in strategic areas around Vancouver Island where they are likely to pick up Southern resident killer whales

A partnership with Google on an artificial intelligence algorithm assists with around-the-clock tracking by monitoring the stream and notifying Fisheries and Oceans Canada if a killer whale or other marine mammal is detected.

“It’s really important we’re kind of monitoring their presence and absence 24/7,” Cottrell said.

“We’re wanting to minimize any anthropogenic or human caused threats which include underwater noise, vessel strike risk and any potential if we happen to have a petroleum discharge, we need to know where the whales are to go and help.”

Speakers are only publicly accessible at a few sites including Sheringham Point Lighthouse and Kelsey Bay near Sayward.

“It’s a really pretty special thing to be able to hear them while you’re actually observing them in their natural habitat,” Cottrell said.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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