Buoy deployed to help protect endangered right whales

Published: Aug. 19, 2022 at 12:02 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - WTOC hopped in a boat and traveled nearly 40 miles off the coast of Savannah to see how a buoy could play a key role in protecting the North Atlantic right whale - one of the world’s most critically endangered species.

“They migrate north, south between New England and just here off the coast of Savannah. They have for hundreds of years and so in the Savannah area - it’s their calving grounds, actually.”

About 350 North Atlantic right whales are left on the planet. While they are protected under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, they face serious threats to their survival.

“CMA CGM, we consider ourselves stewards of the sea. You know, without these oceans we wouldn’t be in business,” said Heather Wood, the head of sustainability with CMA CGM – North America.

CMA CGM and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution deployed an acoustic monitoring buoy, named CMA CGM Sea Guardian-Savannah. It can detect the presence of the right whale near shipping channels.

“We look to find ways to develop technology that helps us protect and increase the biodiversity of the world’s oceans,” Wood said.

Wood said this is the second buoy they’ve launched within a months’ time. The other floats off the coast of Norfolk, Va. Wood says they picked these two locations because their ports are among the busiest in the U.S. This means ships are often put right in the path of migrating whales.

“It just gives the mariner an idea that there are whales present. It gives an idea of the frequency or the number of whales present,” Wood said.

Wood says the high-tech buoy works by picking up the sounds the whale makes within a five nautical mile radius.

“That data is transmitted to a laboratory in Woods Hole and a scientist listens to it to confirm that that indeed is a right whale in the area. That information is then posted on a website for mariners to see. It allows them to really decide which route they should take to avoid,” Wood said.

Wood says the buoy will be replaced once a year and is one of several others that are spread out along the East Coast starting just north of Boston.

All the data collected from the buoys can be found on whalesafe.com.