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Iridium satellite network assists in tracking whales

Iridium : 23 December, 2009  (Application Story)
A satellite data system using Iridium communications network is helping to prevent accidents involving seagoing vessels and whales
Chrisar Software Technologies (Chrisar), an IT company specializing in software systems engineering and signal processing in the marine environment, chose Applied Satellite Engineering (ASE) to develop a satellite data solution for a whale reporting program that uses the global satellite network operated by Iridium Communications.

The Real-time Plotting of Cetaceans (REPCET) program is being deployed in the Pelagos Sanctuary for Marine Mammals, a conservation area in the northwestern Mediterranean Sea. An estimated 3,000-5,000 sperm and fin whales live in this region, which has a very high density of shipping traffic, including high-speed ferries, which pose a danger to whales on or near the surface of the ocean. Whale collisions can injure or kill the animal and also cause significant damage to the ship and its passengers and crew.

ASE is using the Iridium short-burst data (SBD) modem with specialized software customized for this application. Watchstanders on participating ships will use the system to record and transmit reports of whale sightings through the Iridium network to a central server, which will save it into a database and transmit warnings via Iridium to all subscribing ships whose tracks are likely to take them close to the animals.

“Iridium’s SBD service was chosen for this program because of its very low-latency, high network quality and two-way data links, which are critical components in this application,” said Jeff McFarland, president of ASE.

“The centralized system server-client architecture and database, along with Iridium’s global coverage, will facilitate rapid deployment of this unique service in other regions of the world,” added Patrick Mugnier, Chrisar managing director.

The pilot REPCET project is a collaborative effort managed by Chrisar and Souffleurs d’Ecume, a non-governmental organization specializing in applied environmental engineering with a principal focus on marine mammal conservation. Trials are underway on a small number of ships, and large-scale dissemination is planned for 2010.

“We are targeting passenger transport companies as our first priority, since these vessels operate daily at significant speeds, which statistically increases the risk of collision,” said Pascal Mayol, Souffleurs d’Ecume director. “We are also in the process of expanding the program to encompass all types of vessels, such as merchant ships, private yachts, navy craft, fishing boats and racing sailboats, some of which have already expressed interest in subscribing.”

“We are taking special care to screen the applications for participation through an ethical commission, to ensure the system is not used for harmful purposes, such as unauthorized whaling,” Mayol added.

“Every day we discover new and exciting applications for Iridium’s SBD service being developed by our value-added service partners such as ASE,” said Patrick Shay, vice president of Iridium’s data division. “We are especially pleased to be able to play a role in protecting the vulnerable whale populations from being injured or killed by seagoing traffic.”
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