Underwater acoustic glider hailed a ‘success’ for detecting right whales

Transport Canada says it is pleased with the results of an underwater acoustic glider used to help detect the endangered North Atlantic right whales as they migrate to and from Canadian waters in the spring and fall.

While the federal department has been testing different technology over the last few years for finding right whales, this was the first year an underwater glider and a drone were added.

Researchers hope they will help them to understand the movement patterns of the species, as well as provide earlier detection to prevent ship strikes.

“Within the first 24 hours of operation, the glider detected the North Atlantic right whale and a slowdown was triggered in that corresponding zone,” said Michelle Sanders, director of Clean Water Policy with Transport Canada based in Ottawa.

“It’s been a really valuable resource to support the dynamic management of the measures. And we really consider that one a success for this year.”

Sanders said the glider, which was a technology partnership with the University of New Brunswick, was deployed for two months.

This map from Transport Canada shows the static zones, the dynamic shipping zones (A, B, C, D and E), the seasonal management areas, the restricted area and the trial voluntary speed restriction zone for 2020. (Transport Canada)

During that time it was in a shipping zone south of Anticosti Island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and detected nine right whales.

“We will definitely be looking at how we can continue to better integrate this technology into our monitoring system. So with the glider especially, we’re looking to at least have one, if not two, next year.”

Last week, the latest population numbers were released at the annual North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium. There are just 356 right whales left in the world, down from 409 last year — news that came as a blow to researchers.

There have been no reported deaths of right whales in Canadian waters so far in 2020.

Canada’s federal government has been quick to respond in recent years, implementing fishing area closures as well as speed restrictions on shipping vessels.

New for Transport Canada this year was bringing speed limits down to all ships over 13 metres — it only applied to vessels over 20 metres last year — as well as a mandatory restricted area around the Shediac Valley and a trial voluntary speed limit to 10 knots through the Cabot Strait, an important corridor for the whales.

“The aim of the 2020 measures is really to more efficiently target vessel traffic risks to North Atlantic right whales over the course of the season. So especially as they migrate in and out of the Gulf of St. Lawrence in the spring of the fall without, of course, jeopardizing safety and security of mariners,” she said.

WATCH | New ‘gut wrenching’ population estimates for North Atlantic right whales

Researchers of the endangered North Atlantic right whale are dealing with a major blow this week, as the latest population estimates suggest there are only 356 right whales left. The CBC’s Emma Davie reports. 2:49

Sanders said Transport Canada has relied heavily on aerial surveillance for spotting right whales in previous years.

While the drone was able to cover more distance than the underwater glider, Sanders said it didn’t spot any right whales this year. It did, however, find other species such as fin whales, humpback whales and basking sharks.

“Given the sightings that it has had of other species, it shows that it is working and is a valuable tool for us next year as well.”

Sanders said Transport Canada hopes to test a land-based infrared camera near the Cabot Strait before the end of the year to see if it, too, could detect right whales as they’re going through that area.

But she said the testing of that camera was delayed due to the pandemic.

This North Atlantic right whale was spotted by Transport Canada in 2019. (Transport Canada)

Scientists expressed concerns with gaps in right whale tracking during the height of the COVID-19 lockdown, when there were fewer boats on the water and planes in the air to spot the whales.

Sanders said the pandemic delayed the glider’s deployment by about two months, prevented U.S. scientists from flying over Canadian airspace to spot the whales and even impacted the participation of shipping vessels in trial slowdown areas.

“With safety protocols, just concerns and the stress of dealing with the pandemic and making sure that they were following all the new requirements of where they could go, where they couldn’t go,” she said. “So we know that that had an effect.”

Sanders said the reduction in right whale deaths this year means she is hopeful Transport Canada is “doing something right.”

“I think what we continue to learn is that there’s no silver bullet. There’s no one thing that is going to work for everybody, everywhere,” she said.

“We need to keep trying. We need to keep working with all partners and testing some of these solutions to see what is working.”

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Houston Bayous and Streets Underwater From Storm Beta Rain

Heavy rains from Tropical Storm Beta created “impassable flooding” along some roadways in Houston, Texas, on Tuesday, September 22, local media reported. Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said on Tuesday that dozens of locations across Houston were flooded, and he encouraged drivers to stay off the roadways. The center of storm Beta crossed the Texas coast at around 10 pm on Monday night, the National Weather Service said. Videos filmed by a local resident show deep flooding in downtown Houston on Tuesday as rainfall from Tropical Storm Beta inundated the area. Credit: @Runs_for_Vino via Storyful

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‘Parthenon of shipwrecks’: Greece opens its first underwater museum

Greece opened its first underwater museum on Saturday, giving members of the public the chance to scuba dive to the wreck of an ancient ship that sank in the 5th century BC.

The ship was carrying some 3,000-4,000 amphoras, ancient storage devices which in this case were being used to transport wine.

The site, located near the islet of Peristera off the island of Alonissos, will be open to diving enthusiasts from 3 August to 3 October, while non-diving tourists will be able to take a virtual tour at an information centre in Alonissos.

“This wreck lies at a depth of 21-28 metres near the coast of the island of Peristera and contains 3,000 to 4,000 amphorae,” Maria Agalou, president of the Alonissos town council, told the Skai TV channel.

“The amphoras reveal the size of the ancient ship. It was a big ship,” she added.

The amphoras, most of which are intact, were discovered in 1985 by a fisherman.

“We offer humanity the Parthenon of shipwrecks,” said Kostas Agorastos, governor of Thessaly, the region where the island of Alonissos is located, according to Skai TV.

This large merchant ship is said to have sunk around 425 BC due to bad weather during a crossing between Chalkidiki, in northern Greece, and the island of Skopelos, Ert Pari Kalamara, director of the Department of Underwater Antiquities, told the television channel Ert Pari Kalamara.

The Greek authorities plan to make four other ancient shipwreck sites accessible to scuba-diving tourists.

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Bowen photographer gathers following with underwater wonders

BOWEN resident and lover of all things underwater, Barbara Kwaak, a life-long diver and marine photographer is taking her passion for the fringing reefs of her backyard to an increasingly hungry global online audience.

‘Underwater Adventures in Bowen’ on Instagram and Facebook showcases the hidden macro world of Bowen’s bays and fringing reef and has also garnered the attention of the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Australian Marine Conservation Society who have approached Barbara to contribute her content to their audiences also.

Barbara explains what prompted her to share her findings to a broader audience: “The seagrass meadows, rocky outcrops, reef flats and fringing reefs of Bowen’s picturesque bays are important habitats for all sorts of marine creatures and we are so lucky to have these unique environments right here in our backyard.”

“Often I venture straight off the beaches of Grays Bay, Murrays Bay and Rose Bay, and sometimes I go a little further afield, to Kings Beach and North Head Island, but on each dive I always find something too good not to share and I am often surprised at the variety and beauty of what lives just below the surface, only metres from the beach,” Barbara said.

“In the last six months alone I have photographed over 65 different species of marine slugs including the colourfully patterned nudibranchs, marine flat worms and sap sucking slugs as well as the featherstars, wobbegongs, sea urchins, giant clams, and sea turtles that inhabit these marine ecosystems.”

Barbara said this summer has been challenging for the fringing reefs of Bowen. 

As the waters are shallow they are much more susceptible to the warmer temperatures and therefore bleaching.

Barbara has witnessed the unfolding bleaching locally, uploading her findings to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s Eye on the Reef program, a citizen project, which encourages locals to contribute.

“It was heartbreaking to witness the summer’s marine heatwave and as the weeks went on, and the water stayed so hot, you could see that all life underwater was struggling to stay healthy,” she said.

“It’s been a long time waiting and the water has cooled down a lot now, so it is nice to see some of these corals are seeing recovery, though sadly not all.

“In these challenging times I think it’s important to not get side-tracked with what we have lost but to stay focused on what we do have and look at ways we can best preserve protect our marine life moving forward.”

Barbara hopes that by sharing the images of the precious underwater wildlife, audiences will be inspired to create change so that reefs like those fringing Bowen’s bays will have the best chance of survival.

To find out more visit Underwater Adventures in Bowen on Facebook or Instagram.

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