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As part of the Sphyrna Odyssey Quiet Sea mission, two marine drones powered by renewable energy listened to cetaceans in the Mediterranean during and after the lockdown associated with the coronavirus health crisis.

A historic opportunity to observe marine wildlife in near silence and to measure the impact of noise pollution. The coronavirus epidemic and the lockdown measures taken by various countries around the world had a radical effect in terms of reducing maritime and air traffic. To measure the impact of this low level of noise pollution on cetacean behaviour in the Mediterranean, the Sphyrna Odyssey scientific mission launched the “Quiet Sea” mission on 23 April 2020.

Funded by the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, the mission made acoustic recordings in the Pelagos Sanctuary in the Mediterranean, and assessed the impact of the return of maritime traffic on these cetacean populations, which had been living in a silent sea for around 10 weeks.

Under the scientific leadership of Professor Hervé Glotin from the University of Toulon, the findings were made thanks to two Sphyrna autonomous surface vessels. Designed and developed by naval engineering firm Sea Proven, these two prototypes in the form of canoes are equipped with hydrophones, recorders capable of hearing sounds up to 2,000 metres below the surface.

© Pauline Cottaz
© Pauline Cottaz

“In this quiet sea, the animals were able to communicate over longer distances, four times as far as they were able to communicate before the lockdown. We are seeing animals that are less stressed and that are reclaiming their rights.”

Hervé Glotin, Scientific Director of the Sphyrna Odyssey mission.

Powered by an electric engine that runs on solar, wind and hydrokinetic energy, the Sphyrna drones are currently the largest civilian vessels of their kind in the world. These measuring devices distinguish the sound of the animals and, depending on the sounds emitted, can identify what they are doing.

The drones also assess noise pollution caused by human activities that disturb the animals’ environment, as well as the risks of collisions between cetaceans and ships. These unmanned vehicles, which are 20 metres in length, have the potential to revolutionise oceanographic missions – they can be loaded with up to a tonne of equipment.

© Sphyrna Odyssey
© DR

Quiet Sea complements the Sphyrna Odyssey 2019 mission, which took place from September 2019 to March 2020. This expedition, which was supported by the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation and Monaco Explorations, sought to observe and locate in 3D five lesser-known species (the Cuvier’s beaked whale, Risso’s dolphin, pilot whale, common bottlenose dolphin and fin whale, the second-largest whale on the planet) in a vast maritime area stretching from Genoa to the Balearics. A loop of 1,200 nautical miles which passed off the coast of Monaco.

The Sphyrna Odyssey thus allows acoustic recordings from before, during and after lockdown to be compared.

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Fondation Prince Albert II de Monaco

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