Date of Award

12-2013

Level of Access

Open-Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Ocean Engineering and Marine Technology/Interdisciplinary

Advisor

Michael L. Peterson

Second Committee Member

Sean K. Todd

Third Committee Member

Richard Kimball

Abstract

North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) are among the world’s most endangered cetaceans. Although protected from commercial whaling since 1949, North Atlantic right whales exhibit little to no population growth. Ship strike mortality is the leading known cause of North Atlantic right whale mortality. North Atlantic right whales exhibit developed auditory systems, and vocalize in the frequency range that dominates ship acoustic signatures. With no behavioral audiogram published, current literature assumes these whales should be able to acoustically detect signals in the same frequencies they vocalize. Recorded ship acoustic signatures occur at intensities that are similar or higher to those recorded by vocalizing North Atlantic right whales. If North Atlantic right whales are capable of acoustically detecting oncoming ship, why are they susceptible to ship strike mortality?

This thesis models potential acoustic impediments to North Atlantic right whale detection of oncoming ships, and concludes the presence of modeled and observed bow null effect acoustic shadow zones, located directly ahead of oncoming ships, are likely to impair the ability of North Atlantic right whales to detect and/or localize oncoming shipping traffic. This lack of detection and/or localization likely leads to a lack of ship strike avoidance, and thus contributes to the observed high rates of North Atlantic right whale ship strike mortality. I propose that North Atlantic right whale ship strike mortality reduction is possible via reducing and/or eliminating the presence of bow null effect acoustic shadow zones. This thesis develops and tests one method for bow null effect acoustic shadow zone reduction on five ships. Finally, I review current United States policy towards North Atlantic right whale ship strike mortality in an effort to determine if the bow null effect acoustic shadow zone reduction method developed is a viable method for reducing North Atlantic right whale ship strike mortality within United States waters.

I recommend that future work include additional prototype modifications and testing, application for a marine mammal scientific take authorization permit to test the modified prototype on multiple mysticete species, and continued interfacing of the prototype with evolving United States North Atlantic right whale ship strike reduction policies.

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