Whales and Acoustics

Whales and Acoustics

The reason why these pods of whales stranded themselves is unknown…

Stating the Obvious

It’s not like they’re going to tell us anything while their dying in the sand.  But that doesn’t mean that we cannot surmise causes. It also doesn’t mean we can’t seek to remedy the reason whales get too close and get trapped. To ensure in the future we can help them stay in the water.  I thought of a simple idea, with the help of my toaster.  

My toaster, the overachiever 

The dial goes from ‘1’ to ‘Carbon’.  Scorched is somewhere around the middle.  It’s right around ‘scorched’ that it smokes but doesn’t set off the fire alarm until it’s reached ideal incineration temperatures.

I had sort of an epiphany when I was airing out my entire apartment from making my toast into Han Solo.  We haven’t done anything to deter marine mammals from beaching themselves.  We’ve been tracking whales and marine mammals for years through passive acoustics.  We even have gotten high tech about it. We use acoustics to listen for them.  Whales and other mammals speak at certain frequencies, just like we do.  Using passive acoustics, we listen for their speech at their frequency ranges. Pretty neat, right?

The Acoustic Siren

Well, using this, we can go from tracking them, to deterring them.  Bear with me, but if I clap loud, I’ll scare Motley into a giant puffball and run.  She’ll also do the same when the toast is reduced to elemental form triggering the alarm.

And that’s where I had my Eureka moment.

Using acoustic to track animals also means we can use acoustics to deter them.  How or why they approach the beach isn’t important if we’re looking for a method to keep them off the sand.  Especially along beaches that have historic stranding events.  Using acoustics underwater isn’t some farfetched idea.  My fire alarm is testament to that.  It’s time we look to using acoustics to warn animals away from danger.


Anna Pilette is a geophysicist and technologist turned digital consultant.  Anna is a Cofounder of Atomic Dumpling.  You can contact her at anna@atomicdumpling.com.

Seeing the Unseen

Seeing the Unseen

Right now, I’m looking at System 001’s position.  The Pacific Garbage Patch has been in the news since 1997 and System 001 project is trying to clean up the gyre.  While the project is ambitious, it only skims the surface of the problem since 70% of ocean trash sinks.  That leaves tons of trash that requires locating and more complicated cleanup process.

Out of sight, out of mind… 

Do you think about waste?  I’d say most of us recycle where ever we can.  That big blue bin is a hot spot of activity.  What we recycle is barely encompassing what we consume.  Food and beverages are an essential part of our everyday lives.  Americans love their fast lives and their fast foods.  Our mantra is the word ‘Go.’ 

I want you to do me a favor.  Go to your garbage can and look inside.  Imagine the contents floating on ocean waves.  That’s what System 001 is cleaning up. 

Give the bag a lift.  Inside are you hard earned dollars.  We pay for cups and lids from Starbucks.  We pay for plastic grocery bags.  We pay for candy bar wrappers and chip bags. 

See that red solo cup?  It takes about 450 years for that cup to go away after the party.  That’s about the same for plastic drink bottles, six-pack holders, and disposable diapers.  Yup, my poopy baby diapers will out-live me by at least 4x. 

The Harsh Reality

An estimated 80% of ocean trash comes from food and beverages.  The top pollutant in the ocean is cigarette butts.

Recently, there was an article about whale that had over 1000 pieces of plastic in its stomach.  This shouldn’t be a surprise as you stare at that garbage can.  Not everything will make it to the land fill.  How long it will take to break down everything you’re looking at.  If you aren’t sure…. read this.

Having worked on the oceans for over 20 years, I can tell you that your garbage isn’t that different than someone in the UK.  It’s also not that different than someone in Australia.   The rate at which we consumes things has significance because it’s in our oceans and inside of us.  Beach cleanups aren’t enough to fix the problem, and neither are litter patrols.  It first must be a social change, demanded through your hard-earned dollars to affect companies. 

The problem is trash is everywhere and most of it is under the waves.  In order to locate it, underwater acoustics and optic systems work the best.  Locating deposits zones of trash is more economical in terms of remediation work.  Ideally, cost reduction can probably be achieved though the platforms used. 

The best platforms for locating trash underwater are unmanned vehicles. 


Anna Pilette is a geophysicist and technologist turned digital consultant.  Anna is a Cofounder of Atomic Dumpling.  You can contact her at anna@atomicdumpling.com.