A team of researchers from Quebec believes that they can save the St. Lawrence beluga whales – which are an endangered species, by using a computer simulator.
The scientists have just received funds from the provincial government to start this project. They will use data about ships and whales and see how different conditions will affect the animals.
The Simulator Looks Like a Video Game
With computer simulations, researchers can test how scenarios will develop in different cases. They can control in their simulations different factors like the number or the whales, the speed of a ship and its engine volume. This way, researchers can find out how to minimize the risks that threaten the whales. Clement Chion, a professor at l’Universite du Quebec en Outaouais explains that the simulation looks like a video game:
“You see the St. Lawrence and the Saguenay rivers in 3D, where each whale is represented as a separate entity, and each boat as well, and we move them around according to rules based on real data gathered on boat and whale behaviour.”
Chion explained that this simulator was developed almost ten years ago to reduce the collisions between the ships and large whales. The researchers have added a new dimension to also calculate the ship’s “acoustic footprint” and see how they can reduce the noise made from the engine.
The team will consult with marine industry stakeholders so that together they can save the whale populations. They will also receive data on boats and acoustics from the Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (Quebec) will provide data regarding belugas’ swimming, diving, and behavior patterns.
The last estimation places the number population of the belugas at about 900. Researchers haven’t yet found how the sound levels affect the belugas, explained the marine group’s director, Robert Michaud.
Shrinking the Acoustic Habitat
He said that it is believed that the noise interferes with the belugas navigation, but it also impacts them because they use sounds to communicate and hunt:
“When we invade their habitat with more noise, we’re shrinking their acoustic habitat and maybe reducing their ability to find their food.”
The simulator could help scientists find out how much time the whales spend near the boats and see if an adjustment to the boats’ speed could lower the threat. Michaud concludes that the simulator can help everyone: scientists, government, and the marine industry. This wat, they can reduce the impact of the traffic on the mammals and save them:
“Do we want to maintain our fishing industry and go on the same way we’ve been doing, which we know will probably send the right whales down the drain very rapidly, and if not, how can we improve that?”
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.