Camera paints colorful orca portrait

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by GARY CHITTIM / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @gchittimK5

KING5.com

Posted on August 26, 2010 at 5:23 PM

Updated Friday, Aug 27 at 8:06 AM

SEATTLE - When researchers at the University of Washington's Applied Physics Lab first released infrared footage they captured of Southern Resident Orcas in the San Juan Islands, it took off like wildfire on the web.

Now we're learning more about why they set up a camera at San Juan Island's Lime Kiln Park to get those images.

Jim Thomson of the lab told us they were testing ways of detecting orcas at night at the request of the Snohomish PUD, which is considering a tidal energy project in Puget Sound.

Masters student Joe Graber, who coordinated the research, said it was an amazing success. The colorful images clearly show the outline of the orcas in the pitch darkness of an early morning and he said he can use it to detect orcas from a great distance.

Operators of a possible tidal energy project could use that information to shut down the turbines of the plant long before orcas passed through the area.

Just as important is the underwater sound emitted by the orcas. Scott Veirs of Beam Reach, a marine science school, said when the images are blended with the orca sounds received by an expanding network of hydrophones, they can not only detect the orcas way in advance, they can identify the individual pods by the customary squeaks, clicks and whistles.

This information would be required for a tidal energy project or any other in-water project that could affect orcas or other sea life.

You can tap into the hydrophone network for sounds of the orcas by logging on the following website: http://orcasound.net.

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