The robotic buoy in New York, a joint project between WHOI and the Wildlife Conservation Society’s New York Aquarium, sits in a body of water called the New York Bight. Whales here are at especially high risk of being hit; a recent paper found that the Delaware Bay and ports of New York and New Jersey are the deadliest areas for whales along the entire East Coast.
The device is four-feet-wide, dangling long cables called stretch-hoses that attach it to a weighted platform on the seafloor, 125 feet below. The platform is the actual spy: Its equipment picks up whale calls and attempts to identify the different species that make them. It does this by recording audio and processing it into visualizations called pitch tracks—sets of wiggly, multicolored lines that Baumgartner compares to sheet music. By comparing these tracks to a library of known whale calls, the platform can guess what whales passed by. It’s listening for four animals: humpbacks, right whales, fin whales, and sei whales.