Sometimes when looking at one aspect of science, researchers find another. When this happens, it can be science gold. In this case, a seismology tool used for monitoring underwater earthquakes is being used to track the endangered fin whale. That’s because hydrophones used to listen to the sounds of seafloor activity can also hear the low-frequency calls of fin whales.
Seismologist William Wilcock of the University of Washington-Seattle used hydrophones for three years that were located near hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor. He developed algorithms to detect and filter out the whale sounds. But then they turned the tables and listened specifically for the whales.
Scientists were able to trace individual whale calls through an entire network of seafloor sensors, and were able to determine whale “tracks” as they moved above the hydrothermal vents. They also linked calls to whale behavior and group size. The next step is to expand these data-extraction methods to other seismic monitoring stations in the region and that should give them a more detailed idea of whale activities.
It’s another fantastic example of how science overlaps and partnerships can be extremely rewarding.