Detection and Tracking of Whales Using a Ship-based, 360° Thermal Imaging System.

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Burkhardt, E. , Kindermann, L. , Zitterbart, D. and Boebel, O. (2010): Detection and Tracking of Whales Using a Ship-based, 360° Thermal Imaging System. , Second International Conference - The Effects of Noise on Aquatic Life- Cork, Ireland, August 15-20 .
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Ship-borne visual observations are currently the method of choice to detect whales for mitigation efforts during noise producing anthropogenic activities at sea.Detections frequently are based on spotting the whales blow, which is highly transient and frequently of low contrast, requiring utmost concentration of the observer.Conducting such observations reliably on a continuous 24h/day base for multi-week periods requires large teams of observers to compensate for observer fatigue and the limited human field of view.Moreover, visual observations are restricted to daylight hours.However, a whales blow comprises fluid droplets significantly warmer than the environment, at least at high latitudes, rendering infrared thermal imaging a promising observation tool in polar regions, also at night. Here we present data from the deployment of a ship-borne, 360°, cooled thermal imager, FIRST-Navy (produced by RDE, Bremen, Germany), which provides a continuous video stream of the ships perimeter. Data collected with this system near Spitsbergen clearly reveal whale blows up to a distance of at least 1.5 km, even at relatively warm water conditions of 6°C. For lower temperatures, detections ranged up to 3 km. Automated detection algorithms are currently under development, with first results to be presented at this conference.

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