Home Technology Artificial intelligence UCSB’s ocean science laboratory is using artificial intelligence to prevent whale deaths

UCSB’s ocean science laboratory is using artificial intelligence to prevent whale deaths

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UCSB's ocean science laboratory is using artificial intelligence to prevent whale deaths

The leading cause of death for large whales is ship strikes. UC Santa Barbara’s Benioff Ocean Science Laboratory is working to reduce the number of these collisions by tracking them along the California coast through artificial intelligence (AI) technology.

Last September, UCSB’s WhaleSafe program launched their second research vessel in San Francisco Bay, while the first vessel is docked near the Long Beach harbor.

They track whales migrating along the central coast, including blue whales, humpback whales, and fin whales.

Rachel Rhodes is a project scientist for the Benioff Lab working on WhaleSafe. She said whale-ship collisions off the California coast are more common than many think.

‚ÄúThere are estimates that about 80 endangered whales are killed off the west coast each year. So again, it’s just a nuanced number of the actual reported ship strikes, because it’s just a fraction of what we’re seeing,” Rhodes said.

According to Rhodes, the risk of a ship collision is high near ports in Long Beach and Oakland. Their solution is an AI-powered, real-time whale detection system that lets mariners know if whales are nearby in busy shipping areas.

Santa Barbara County Parks

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Whale carcasses sometimes wash up on Central Coast beaches during their coastal migration.

“We have three different types of technology that contribute to give this whale presence assessment of what’s happening on the water at any given time,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes said the design of their whale tracking system has three parts. The first and most important component is an underwater microphone that monitors the ocean sound 24/7. And with their AI technology, they can identify each whale by the sounds they make.

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The second piece of information they use is satellite data of ocean conditions to predict whether whales are likely to be nearby.

“That was a model built from 104 blue whale satellite tags to understand their habitat preference, but it’s dynamically updated every day based on the OSHA graphical conditions and will let us know the forecast for the region,” Rhodes said. .

And the last piece is data collected while observing whales.

“Those three all come together in our system and we synthesize it into a simpler version that is a ‘whale presence rating.’ [the] Smokey the Bear fire hazard sign. I think that’s the best analogy because it’s a rating that goes from low, medium, high to very high,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes said they get hourly updates of the various data streams, which they send to ship captains and resource managers.

With the highest numbers of whale strikes in 2018 and 2019, UCSB’s Benioff Lab is asking mariners to use their platform to slow down for nearby whales to avoid collisions.

Updates on nearby whales can be found at WhaleSafe’s public website.

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