Increased levels of marine traffic from container ships, pleasure boats, speedboats and eco-tour operators has created a significant noise pollution crisis.
The first real-time acoustic monitoring project of cetacean species - whales, dolphins and porpoise - in Ireland was launched this week off the south coast.
The aim is to create a near real-time detection model for these species and examine the impact that rising ocean noise pollution is having on the country's marine life.
A 13ft 2 tonne specially designed data gathering buoy will be deployed 9km off the coast of Baltimore, County Cork, for the next twelve months as part of the project, following months of development.
An autonomous hydrophone - underwater microphone - has been attached to the buoy and will record whale species in real-time and train sophisticated machine learning models to identify different species calls.
The data will be used to create a marine wildlife detection and classification model, which has the potential to be applied to other projects across the globe.
The Smart Whale Sounds project is being undertaken by Ocean Research & Conservation Association Ireland, a “for-impact” non-profit organisation based in Cork, in partnership with Rainforest Connection and supported by Huawei Ireland.
Emer Keaveney is a marine mammal ecologist at the Ocean Research & Conservation Association Ireland and the lead researcher.
They said: “Increased levels of marine traffic from container ships, pleasure boats, speedboats and eco-tour operators has created a significant noise pollution issue.
"Sound pollution causes as much damage to marine life as overfishing, pollution and climate change, and is believed to cause behavioral changes that interfere with the health and survival of the animals.
"Informed estimates suggest that ocean noise levels are at least 10 times higher today than they were a few decades ago.”
The Smart Whale Sounds project will provide a much greater understanding of what is happening on ocean floors - specifically helping with the identification and classification of species in Irish waters, their distribution and behaviour and how noise pollution is changing these patterns.
In the long-term, it could potentially lead to the development of an early warning system that will enable ships to reduce their speed in time to lessen the considerable risk of whale ship strikes.
Topher White, the chief executive of Rainforest Connection, said: “No matter where we look on earth, life expresses and asserts itself through sound. There’s no better way to tap into the subtlety and the essence of ecology than through how nature calls to itself."
To capture this at scale within our oceans, and harness the power of cloud-AI and big-data analysis to gather the ecological insight, is the beginning of an unprecedented era of ambitious scientific discovery and critical conservation work.”
Huawei Ireland will be providing technological support and assistance as part of its global TECH4ALL initiative. Smart Whale Sounds is the first TECH4ALL project to be launched in Ireland and the first to focus on ocean and marine wildlife globally.
Tony Yangxu, CEO Huawei Ireland, said: “The Smart Whale Sounds project will see Ireland leading the way in using technology and data to have a greater understanding of marine life and help inform how best to manage potential marine protected areas.”
Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist. This article has based on a press release from Ocean Research & Conservation Association Ireland.