The Wazoku Challenge of Marine Mammals Detection

The U.S. Navy along conservation organizations (along 401 Tech Bridge, Maritime Blue, and Quiet Sound ) launched an international Wazoku challenge aimed at the development of technological solutions to automatically detect Southern resident killer whales and North Atlantic right whales presence in the northwest ocean and the northeastern regions of the United States. 

The Southern resident killer whales (SRKW) are the smallest of four separate communities of fish-eating ecotype of orca in the North Pacific Ocean. As of July 2022,  it was assessed that only 74 remaining individuals were in the annual census conducted by the Center for Whale Research.The North Atlantic right whales (NARW) are among the three suitable whale species. They are protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, and Canada’s Species at Risk Act. As of October 2020, fewer than 370 individuals exist in the western North Atlantic Ocean. Their migration patterns pass through areas with heavy shipping traffic, leading to an increased mortality rate due to vessel strikes and fixed fishing gear entanglement.

The Problem

The designated areas of the northwest ocean and the United States northeastern regions face the dilemma of protecting the two whale populations while aiming to increase marine traffic density. In the past, visual observations assisted in mitigating this trade-off. However, the optical protocols are ineffective due to the requirement for uncrewed vessels operation in inclement weather and night activity.The challenge aimed to offer other ways besides visual cues to monitor the marine mammal populations in the areas. Specifically, the challenge was offering a hardware and communication system to detect the endangered Southern Killer Whales and North Atlantic Right Whales.

The Solution

We submitted a detailed solution to the challenge along with Sea to Shore Systems and Open Ocean Robotics.The solution combined hydrophones and above-water cameras for the automated detection of whales. The novel portion of the solution was the integration of proven technologies from three organizations (Sea to Shore Systems, Open Ocean Robotics, and Deep Voice) that creates a flexible vessel strike warning system capable of achieving extensive area coverage 24 hours a day with significantly reduced labor and operational costs.


The three organizations won a large part of the proposed award (20,500 USD shared between the organizations), and the suggested solution was declared one of the challenge-winning proposals. The three organizations hope the suggested solution will be materialized and implemented, ensuring that the two whale populations are safe and sound.

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