From a buoy to smart technology – The development of SAvE Whales and its adoption by Greece

The “adventure” of the SAvE Whales system to prevent sperm whales from colliding with ships in the Kythera Strait – from the first pilot project in 2013 to the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding at the Ministry of Environment and Energy for its full development – is the subject of an article by Dimitris Athinakis for kathimerini.gr.

Over the last 10 years, it is estimated that the population of the Eastern Mediterranean sperm whales has decreased from 250-300 to 150-200 individuals. Collisions with passing ships are recognized as the main threat to them in this region.

Therefore, it all started in 2013, when the Swiss organization OceanCare funded the development of a pilot project: a buoy with a passive acoustic system and a mathematical program to detect sperm whales.

In the process, appropriate technology was developed by the Institute of Computational Mathematics at FORTH, the University of Crete and the Pelagos organization, in collaboration with the University of Algarve, Green2Sustain and Marine Traffic. Thus, a three-year pilot test of the project southwest of Crete started in 2019.

The system has a built-in GPS and a processor to better filter the sounds (“clicks”) of the sperm whales. It is energy self-sufficient (featuring a small photovoltaic system) and sends data to the data analysis center on land via a mobile phone signal.

From there, an alert is sent in a matter of seconds to passing ships, at least seven kilometers before they reach the location of the sperm whale, so that they can re-route.

The Green Tank has contributed to the transfer of the successful pilot experience to the Greek State. With the signed Memorandum of Understanding, the upgrade of the system is underway with the goal to operate 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, in all weather conditions, in order to prevent collisions between ships and bellows.

As Ioli Christopoulou explained, the SAvE Whales system is precisely applied in areas such as the Kythera Strait, which is a key ecosystem for the species, there is a high concentration of ships and there is no other way to save the species other than to alert ships and change their course.

In terms of steps for the future following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministry of Environment, NECCA, The Green Tank and OceanCare, the initial phase of analysis and data collection through an autonomous underwater sound recorder and field surveys will begin in the summer of 2024. The system is expected to be fully operational by 2028.

You can read the article in Greek on kathimerini.gr by clicking here.