back to article Save the whales – with, uh, artificial intelligence?

Bright yellow buoys running AI software have been deployed in an attempt to deter cargo ships from running over nearby whales. Cargo ship collisions are the top cause of whale death, Douglas McCauley, professor of ocean science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told The Register this week. California is home to …

  1. steviebuk Silver badge


    my Star Trek joke at beginning.

    Anyway. My limited background in programming is back in 90s in Pascal and COBOL in college. Then C++ when finished all courses in 2000. Now started to try to learn Python (I was never good at programming. Got bored for all those years but a little interested again)

    Anyway. The long winded point. I'm no expert but surely this doesn't need to be AI? Is this another bullshit marking "We've used AI". Surely if you're detecting one species you just have that as your reference in the code. The audio listens out, does it equal to this frequency or this list of frequencies or similar. Yes it does. Send data to HQ else carry on listening.

    As I type that I wonder if the AI bit is it not having an exact frequency it can match so it has to see if its similar. Surely that's still not AI and just a fancy algorithm marketed as AI so middle managers buy it.

    1. chivo243 Silver badge

      Re: Stole


      ""This is a triple win for the planet – we save the whales, fight climate change, and promote community health by cutting air pollution.""

      Sounds like the six in one knife-o-matic, it flays, it filets, it scales, it juliennes... None are a selling point in itself, but bundle them together? Presto! Instant uptake.

    2. Little Mouse Silver badge

      Re: Stole

      Think in terms of human speech. It would be a mammoth undertaking to manually pinpoint exactly what it is that makes a dialect or accent unique. Consider how a Brummie accent differs from a Scouse. Or how about something more subtle - e.g. Norfolk vs Somerset, or Australia vs New Zealand?

      This is something that Machine Learning should be able to excel at. Feed the computer lots of examples and let it figure out for itself what the unique identifiers (or combinations thereof) are. From the article it sounds like they've done exactly that, albeit for whale song (which I understand is a *lot* more complex than one might at first assume).

      Unfortunately, that does mean that people are going to start labelling it an "AI", cos it's all the same thing innit?

      1. Martin Gregorie

        Re: Stole

        Some people can recognize dialectical differences in human speech that are far more subtle than the quoted Australian/New Zealand one. Better examples would have been to distinguish a Tasmanian from a Sydneysider or an Aucklander from a West Coaster.

        However, the best exemplar of this that I know would be a good friend, now sadly deceased, who lived in New York all his life: he could place a fellow New Yorker within a 10 mile area of that city just by hearing him speak.

        I'm not at all surprised that the same dialectical variation is found among whales and dolphins.

      2. A. Coatsworth

        Re: Stole

        Well, yes, macine learning should be able to pinpoint accents rather accurately, but whay do we need to identify the accent of a whale before telling the ships "please do not run this endangered animal over"?

        Are the scientist racists again whales from certain regions?

  2. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge


    The buoy detects blue, fin, and humpback whales – because these are the three endangered whales in our region.

    Soooo... other whale species are screwed until enough have been run over to make it onto the endangered list...?

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: Endangered

      Soooo... other whale species are screwed until enough have been run over to make it onto the endangered list...?

      More likely there aren't enough in that region to worry about (e.g. sperm whales) or are small and fast enough to avoid ships (e.g. dolphins and their larger and smaller cousins).

  3. This is my handle
    Thumb Up

    Sold! At saving the whales...

    .... but missing the other parts of the trifecta? How does this help with air pollution? Climate Change?

  4. An_Old_Dog Silver badge

    Doing it the Easy Way

    Wouldn't an underwater, ship-mounted, always-on warning horn to warn off the whales be easier and cheaper?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Doing it the Easy Way

      That would mean another big research grant. Noise pollution underwater is a thing, and causes harm to some/many species. Sticking an underwater klaxon onto every ship would likely be as bad or worse than not using one.

      There have been stories in the media about military exercises at sea and how they have to take the environment into account when planning them, especially near-shore operations.

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