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Buoys help ships steer clear of right whales

Far inland, scientists listen for slow, shallow swimmers.

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Only about 400 of the North Atlantic species are left. Prized by whalers, they were hunted to near-extinction.

Courtesy of Chris Tremblay/Cornell University BRP/NOAA

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Along the Northeast coast of the United States, right whales are migrating south from their summer feeding grounds in the Bay of Fundy and Nova Scotia to Georgia and Florida. There, they’ll give birth and feed with their young through the winter.

The event draws the interest of whale watchers and researchers. But this year, researchers were delighted to discover something new: right whales swimming near New York City. Right whales have probably passed close to the city before. This time, researchers heard them.

Right whale calls were intercepted by buoys equipped with hard drives to record the sounds. The 10 buoys – three off New York Harbor and seven south of Fire Island – were deployed by Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, N.Y. The buoys recorded ocean noise for 75 days. When the buoys off Fire Island were pulled up and the recordings downloaded in May, analysts heard right whale calls.

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