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Standards for Hydrophone Technology Help to Protect Endangered Whales

New York, May 09, 2008

A project being developed by researchers at the Cornell Bioacoustics Research Laboratory and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) is using advanced acoustic technology to protect a species of endangered whales. Hydrophones, or underwater microphones, will help scientists pinpoint and protect right whales, an endangered species just off the coast of Massachusetts.

In this exciting innovation, ten hydrophones are strung together with a stretch data cable. This string is attached to buoys in the area inhabited by the right whales. Unique software in the hydrophones detects when whales are in the vicinity by picking up their distinctive acoustic signatures. When a hydrophone hears a whale, it sends a satellite signal to researchers, who verify the signal and send warning to ship captains in the area.

With this technology, ship captains can avoid collisions with the large mammals – a leading cause of death for right whales. With only 400 right whales alive today, these hydrophones are critical in protecting this species.

The advancement of hydrophone technology is aided by the standards that guide the ultrasonic industry. IEC 60565: Underwater acoustics - Hydrophones - Calibration in the frequency range 0,01 Hz to 1 MHz is a standard that specifies methods for the calibration of hydrophones, as well as the rules for the presentation of calibration data. Proper calibration of hydrophone equipment is essential to ensure that researchers are registering right whale calls – which typically fall between 50 and 350 Hertz – and not background noise.

IEC 60565 was developed by International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) Technical Committee (TC) 87. The Chairman of TC 87 is Dr. John Garnet Abbott, director of standards communication for worldwide quality and regulatory affairs at Philips Medical Systems, a member of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) serves as the USNC approved TAG Administrator to IEC TC 87.

To learn more, visit the Cornell Bioacoustics Research Laboratory’s Right Whales Project site and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Right Whale Listening site.

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