British Columbia

University of Victoria researchers use underwater 'glider' to study B.C. whales

The torpedo-shaped robot is tracking whale movements over the next three weeks

The torpedo-shaped robot is tracking whale movements over the next three weeks

Adam Comeau of OTN Halifax and Rianna Burnham of UVic prepare to launch the glider into the ocean. (UVic Whale research Lab)

A project studying whales with a special undersea "glider" has begun off Flores Island in Clayoquot Sound, north of Tofino, with the hope of eventually reducing ship-whale collisions.

The self-powered two-metre glider is being used to study whale movements by listening to and recording their sounds.

The torpedo-shaped glider — which can also identify different species of whales — is part of the the Whales, Habitat and Listening Experiment (WHaLE), a partnership between researchers from the University of Victoria, Dalhousie University, and organizations across Canada.

The two-metre long glider can dive to a depth of 200 metres. (Rhianna Burnham)

"It sets [research methodology] on its head. It gives us an amazing window into what's going on out there," David Duffus, director of UVic's Whale Research Lab, told All Points West host Robyn Burns.

"Every piece of information that comes from out there is exciting, because … after whaling, we haven't had much of an idea of which of the large whales are left, how many, and more importantly, what are they doing out there."

The ultimate goal of the project is to find a way to alert ships about whales they might collide with.

Ship strikes are a threat to many species of large whales, but due to holes in the data, it is uncertain how many are hit each year.

The glider was released on Wednesday, and Duffus said if all goes well, the glider will return in three weeks to the exact spot where the researchers set it loose.

With files from CBC's All Points West

To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: UVic researchers hope to reduce whale-ship collisions using data gathered by underwater 'glider'


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