The 2013 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) took place over the weekend, but one new high-tech babysitter was not featured in Las Vegas. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute has developed underwater robots to find, track, and protect baleen whales in the Gulf of Maine, particularly the highly endangered North Atlantic Right Whale.
Between mid-November and early-December, the torpedo-shaped gliders located nine right whales, empowering regulators to institute a voluntary speed restriction in the area to decrease the threat of boat strikes. This represents the first time an autonomous vehicle has successfully detected and reported the location of baleen whales.
Right whales were one of the first species to be dramatically affected by commercial whaling, and remain one of the most critically endangered species of whales, with less than 400 individuals in the North Atlantic population. While whales can get caught as bycatch in commercial fisheries, run-ins with ships account for one third of all right whale deaths, so the ability to warn boats of their proximity is an important component of their continued protection.