Vineyard Wind seeks whale monitoring technology

Acoustic monitoring will help identify whale locations and species during construction of large-scale offshore wind farm.

This map from the Vineyard Wind website shows the area 15 miles off Martha's Vineyard where a proposed wind farm would be located.

In an effort to safeguard critically endangered North Atlantic right whales, Vineyard Wind is launching its search for acoustic monitoring systems as part of its large-scale wind farm project 14 miles off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard.

Vineyard Wind is seeking proposals from universities, technology companies, and others for the implementation of advanced passive acoustic monitoring systems (PAMS) to be deployed near transit routes to the offshore wind farm. PAMS will detect the presence of right whales, then transmit information in real time to project staff. By monitoring whale activity, vessel speeds and other protective measures are effectively implemented

Charles “Stormy” Mayo, a senior scientist at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, said there has been new enthusiasm for acoustic monitoring in the past 15 years. “Those are notoriously effective methods for knowing whether a given species is in a general area,” Mayo said.

Much of the acoustic monitoring technology used by people today was developed by Chris Clark at Cornell University. Clark demonstrated it was possible to not only identify whale locations, but also the species of whale.

The North Atlantic right whale is one of the world’s most endangered whale species, with an estimated 410 remaining. “The whales began their decline probably in 2010, and there’s no reason to believe in the past few years that there’s been an increase. Calving rates are low, and mortalities are high,” Mayo said. “There’s little doubt that the population continues in decline.”

Beyond PAMS, Vineyard Wind will also curtail turbine construction during the winter and early spring months when North Atlantic right whales are near the area, and reduce underwater noise during installation of turbine foundations. There is also a $3 million Wind & Whales Fund, which aims to advance marine mammal protections as offshore wind continues to grow on the East Coast.

Mayo said the funding will go a long way toward supporting marine mammal life on the East Coast. “Their additional funds, I think, will make a substantial difference in conservation,” Mayo said. “And maybe, who knows, it might encourage other groups or other wind energy people to add to that. Right whales are certainly a big issue, and I congratulate them on their decision.”