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Seismometers used to track whales

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The fin whales, nicknamed “greyhounds of the sea,” are the second-largest animal living on Earth. The animal’s huge size and global range creates challenge for scientists who want to study its movements and behaviors. It is important to learn fin whale’s behavior because knowing their swimming pattern could help vessels avoid collision, which is harmful to both vessels and the whales. Understanding other aspects of their life such as where they feed and breed could also help recover the fin whale’s population.

University of Washington oceanographers are addressing such questions using seafloor seismometers, devices that record vibrations. Researchers can locate the position and path of the fin whales by calculating the fin whale’s call at multiple seismometers. The method is similar to how a smartphone’s GPS measures a person’s location by comparing paths to different satellites.

“We’d like to know where the fin whales are at any given time and how their presence might be linked to food availability, ocean conditions and seafloor geology,” UW doctoral student in oceanography Weirathmueller said. “This is an incredibly rich dataset that can start to pull together the information we need to link the fin whales with their deep-ocean environments.”

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