Cetaceans are some of the most enchanting animals on the planet, be it because of their sheer size, wide range, cultural value, intelligence, and eventual vocal abilities.
However, they are also one of the most difficult animals to study. Experts say an underwater fiber optic cable can be used to eavesdrop on these huge and mysterious marine mammals.
The results of this study have been published in the peer-reviewed academic journal Frontiers in Marine Science.
Industrial whaling, pollution, other human encroachments on ocean habitats, and climate change have taken their toll on great damage to whale populations and even more forced to change the routes and timing of their migration.
Currently, about 1.2 million km of fiber-optic telecommunication cables have been laid across the oceans of the Earth. And it was with their help that the researchers were able to listen to the whales.
This was achieved through the use of distributed acoustic sensing (DAS), which connects to optical fiber and uses additional fibers as hydrophones. Using this method, researchers began studying baleen whales in Isfjord, the second longest fjord in the Norwegian Svalbard archipelago. Observations in the area have shown that baleen whales, such as blue and humpback whales, regularly visit the area every summer.
This experiment was a success: we were able to eavesdrop on the cries of whales in the area. Not only that, but the ability to track the location and time of whales, keeping track of where they are around the world. In the future, they will be able to track whales in real time. This is especially important because instead of deploying new hydrophones in the ocean, researchers can use an existing global cable system.
“Deploying hydrophones is extremely expensive. But fiber optic cables are available all over the world, and they are available,” lead author Leah Buffo said in a statement.
There are challenges along the way, however. First of all, of course, the fact that the cables have owners, so permission will be required to use them for DAS. But these are persistent problems that researchers hope to address. Further work is needed to better exploit these new features.