Monitoring Buoy to Help Research Marine Mammals off Atlantic Coast

July 7, 2021
Photo by Mark Baumgartner, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Maryland Energy Administration (MEA), University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES), and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have launched an ocean buoy that monitors and provides daily reports of whales detected off Maryland’s Atlantic coast. 

A wide range of whales, dolphins, and porpoises call the ocean offshore Maryland home or visit during their annual migration along the Atlantic coast. The buoy supports the state’s ongoing efforts to expand our understanding of marine mammals and to support research that will aid environmental assessments such as those conducted for offshore wind development. This buoy will provide information about these species and the time of year they are present.

"It's wonderful to be able to use this state-of-the-art technology to provide alerts about endangered whale species offshore of Maryland. Many people don't realize that whales pass by the Maryland coast during their winter migration. These real-time detections will be freely available on the Whale Alert and Ocean Alert apps so mariners can see when whales are in the area and slow down to help avoid collisions with whales," said UMCES Research Associate Professor Helen Bailey.

The buoy was deployed about 23 miles offshore and is sited within US Wind LLC’s MarWin lease. A U.S. Coast Guard notice to mariners was issued to alert ocean-going vessels and the boating community to its location. 

The buoy system has an underwater listening device called a hydrophone that will record marine mammal calls. A detection algorithm will then analyze these calls and determine the presence of humpback, fin, sei, and the critically-endangered North Atlantic Right whale species. These data will be transmitted to shore, and the records will be verified by UMCES scientists and shared on a daily basis. Anyone interested in which species are detected off our coast can access the daily reports on the buoy website. 

DNR and MEA have supported several research initiatives to help provide critical information necessary when evaluating potential offshore wind deployment. Such initiatives help the state to better understand the physical characteristics, wind resources, and local and migratory wildlife of the mid-Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf. MEA has also funded a number of focused studies analyzing Maryland’s port infrastructure, steel fabrication facilities, and offshore wind supply chain capabilities.

These research initiatives help provide key information to offshore wind project developers to facilitate the development of plans, which must be submitted to and approved by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management prior to construction.