ORCA & Huawei Ireland: Key Findings Protecting Whales


    Sep 15, 2023

    Ireland’s Ocean Research and Conservation Association (ORCA) and Huawei Ireland released the latest findings on marine life protection in Ireland discovered during their joint work on the TECH4ALL Smart Whales Sounds project.

    Project background

    Preliminary analysis suggests that the south coast of Ireland is a cetacean (whales, dolphins and porpoise) ‘hot-spot’. Cetaceans constitute almost half of all the animals within Ireland’s sea and land borders. Worldwide, sea mammals are a third of animals on earth.

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    While Irish waters are protected under the EU Habitats Directive, the threat to local marine life remains very real. Marine traffic has exploded in volume along the south coast of Ireland, increasing tenfold over the past decade. More container ships are travelling from Canada to Cork Harbour, the second largest harbor in the world, which is compounded by increased traffic to and from Dublin and Liverpool ports. At the same time, increasing numbers of pleasure boats, speed craft, and ecotour operators are jostling for space in already crowded sea lanes.

    Source: Marine Institute Ireland / Shipping routes off the Ireland South Coast

    As well as making deadly ship strikes much more likely, the corresponding rise in ambient noise pollution is devastating for aquatic mammals. Sound is intrinsic to all aspects of cetacean life, from communication, navigation, and finding mates, to avoiding predators and hunting.

    In 2021, TECH4ALL partners ORCA, Rainforest Connection, and Huawei Ireland deployed a 13-foot, 2-tonne specially designed data-gathering buoy 9 km off the coast of Baltimore, Co. Cork.

    An autonomous hydrophone (underwater microphone) is attached to the buoy to record cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) in real time and train sophisticated machine learning models to identify different species’ calls. The data will be used to create a marine wildlife detection and classification model.

    Key findings as of now

    • Confirmed: Shipping lanes in the Celtic Sea south of Ireland are major contributors to noise pollution in the marine environment.
    • Learned: The real-time multi-species detection system has practical implications for marine conservation. It can provide real-time notifications to ships in areas where whales are present, thanks to the new acoustics data acquisition system.
    • Potential: The system could help in planning key marine infrastructure, such as offshore renewable energy facilities, to minimise noise impact on marine life during the construction phase.

    Ship noise, such as the low hum of a container ship can mask whale calls, affect animal communication and important life history strategies such as co-ordinated feeding, or move animals out of important habitats. Recent advances in technology provide increasing opportunity to use these innovations for good and to enhance our understanding of the natural world. To achieve this, we are using Huawei’s [AI development platform] ModelArts and cloud storage, coupled with machine learning, to automate wildlife monitoring for marine conservation.”

    Emer Keaveney, Co-founder and Executive Director of ORCA Ireland

    In addition to environmental protection, we believe that digital technologies also play a key role in many other areas. Digital technologies such as AI, cloud, and 5G are being rapidly integrated and extensively applied across different industries. This is facilitating digital transformation and sustainable socioeconomic development, and bringing tangible benefits to society as a whole.

    Read more about the Huawei TECH4ALL initiative.

    Disclaimer: Any views and/or opinions expressed in this post by individual authors or contributors are their personal views and/or opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views and/or opinions of Huawei Technologies.


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