US Navy destroyer supports marine mammal study

USS Cole in 2014 (Photo: US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brian Morales)

The US Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Cole has received an unusual assignment while at sea to help monitor migrating whales.

Cole was helping to support a joint Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) and Living Marine Resources (LMR) program project designed to understand the effects sonar has on marine mammal behaviour.

The destroyer’s crew assisted while two separate pods of beaked and pilot whales were tracked off the Virginia Capes during a behavioural response study (BRS) controlled exposure experiment (CEE) under the guidance of navy personnel from US Fleet Forces (USFF) Command and contracted scientists.

Cole‘s support for the project entailed use of active sonar at a specific time and location so that the researchers could monitor the reaction of the marine species.

The study occurs as often as the schedule of navy vessels and the migratory patterns of specific marine mammals allow.

Joel Bell, a senior marine resources specialist at Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Atlantic, said that CEEs began being conducted in 2017 but had involved the deployment of satellite tags on beaked whales and pilot whales at that location going back several more years, thus giving the researchers a very large baseline data set for comparison.

The tags record information from the mammal as well as the acoustic information from the navy ship that is transmitting the active sonar, said Ron Filipowicz, an environmental policy specialist at USFF.

The information is then recorded from retrieved tags or is sent up to a satellite which is then transmitted back to a receiver that the scientific team has to record the data. All of the data collected will be shared with the National Marine Fisheries Service and other scientific organisations of interest.

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