Lyttelton Port Company – Hector’s dolphin acoustic monitoring programme

Lyttelton Port Company’s (LPC) world-leading acoustic research is helping to set a new standard in marine mammal protection. LPC recently wrapped up a five-year acoustic monitoring programme put in place to monitor the presence of vocalising Hector’s dolphins closest to the Port during piling and dredging activities.

The Hector’s dolphin, a nationally vulnerable species endemic to New Zealand, is one of the few species that can easily and reliably be distinguished from other dolphin species, as they produce sounds that are of a higher frequency relative to the more broadband clicks used by other dolphins.

Over the five-year period, more than 100,000 hours of underwater raw audio data was collected by four Soundtrap hydrophones (underwater microphones). This information was then fed into an artificial intelligence learning system that has enabled researchers to create a dolphin detection model that is incredibly effective at picking out Hector’s dolphins.

With accurate, real-time detection models, decision-makers can have certainty of protecting animals. LPC’s model was recently used to detect Hector’s dolphins during a SailGP event. The model was put into buoys on the race course. Whenever a dolphin was detected the computer program would ping and eight seconds later a text alert was received. The use of the model at the event showed just how valuable real time applications can be. Without the five years of data collected by LPC, this solution would not have been possible.

Other ports and marinas around New Zealand are also making use of the model during their coastal development projects. Marine mammal exclusion zones have been put in place to protect the safety of any animals entering construction areas. Acoustic monitoring is an excellent tool for monitoring exclusion zones because acoustic detection ranges are far greater than people can see, especially in bad weather.