International team of researchers glides into the Honguedo Strait

- October 3, 2019

(flythebirthpath photo, used via Creative Commons license)
(flythebirthpath photo, used via Creative Commons license)

A group of researchers from Canada and the United States is embarking on a pilot study of baleen whale monitoring systems around a major Canadian shipping region.

This new study will help identify optimal locations, technology and scientific approaches to maximize the effectiveness of whale monitoring in and around the Hongudeo Strait with the goal of mitigating ship strike risk.

There are 14 species of baleen whales. They all have baleen, instead of teeth, which they use to collect shrimp-like krill, plankton and small fish from the sea. Baleen is made out of keratin, the same protein that makes up our fingernails and hair.

The research, being led by Prof. Kim Davies (University of New Brunswick), uses autonomous underwater gliders and fixed moorings, both equipped with digital acoustic devices, to locate whales in the area, which is between Anticosti Island and the northern Gaspé Peninsula in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

“The instruments deployed in early September have performed really well so far, and have detected fin and sei whales in the Honguedo Strait,” says Dr. Davies. “These data will allow us to measure the presence of endangered whales in and around the shipping corridor, and learn how best to use the technology to support ship strike mitigation efforts.”

Gliders listen to, and report the calls of blue, sei, fin, humpback and North Atlantic right whales in near real-time using technology developed by collaborators at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. It is one of the only systems in Canada that monitors North Atlantic Right whales in near real time, but local environmental factors can strongly influence glider “flight” and the efficacy of this and other systems which rely on detecting and differentiating whale sounds from other sources of noise. While the gliders represent no risk to vessel traffic, they can be damaged in a collision with a ship. So far, the gliders have proven to be up to the task, and are able to maintain their navigational path in this high current environment.

The international team, which also includes scientists from Dalhousie University, Ocean Tracking Network, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, JASCO Applied Sciences and Teledyne Webb Research,in addition to the University of New Brunswick, hopes that fine-tuning whale monitoring systems in the Hunguedo Strait will help support dynamic management of these and other shipping lanes in Canada to reduce the interactions between marine mammals and vessels. Vessel strikes are one of the known threats to endangered whales in Canada, in particular the North Atlantic right whale.

The two-month mission is being supported by Transport Canada. The Glider, which was deployed in the Gulf od St.Lawrence near Rivière-au-Renard on September 4, will complete 16-20 transects of a 65 kilometre section of the Strait. A preliminary report may be possible in early 2020. Validated detections will be disseminated via automated systems, including WhaleMap, which is publicly available at


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