Automated localization of whales in coastal fjords
December 31, 2019

Article published December 2019 by The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America

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Abstract: Localization and tracking of vocalizing marine mammals are powerful tools for understanding and mitigating the impacts of anthropogenic stressors such as vessel noise on habitat use of cetaceans. A large-aperture hydrophone network has been installed in the Kitimat Fjord System, an ecologically, culturally, and economically valued marine environment in northern British Columbia, Canada. This network consists of four synchronized bottom-mounted hydrophones that permanently record and radio-transmit data to a land-based laboratory. An automated system has been developed which includes routines to localize transient bio-acoustic signals from three or more streaming hydrophones in near real-time. These routines comprise the correlation of hydrophone signals, the construction of a time lag model, and signal localization and error estimation from a spatial likelihood surface. The localization method was tested experimentally and subsequently applied to vocalizations from humpback whales, fin whales, and killer whales. Refractive and reflective sound propagation effects in the confined fjords are assessed using ray tracing propagation models. Automated localization results are compared to ground-truth data and shown to provide good accuracy.

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