Cork acoustics, buoy: Using AI to protect Irish marine life

9 Oct 2023

Image: © CorinaDanielaObertas/

ORCA Ireland and Huawei discussed the Smart Whale Sounds project, which aims to detect animal sounds and warn ships if they’re approaching marine life.

An ongoing initiative in Cork aims to create a real-time monitoring system to learn about and protect Ireland’s marine life.

The Smart Whale Sounds project is using a combination of acoustics and artificial intelligence (AI) to monitor the acoustics of members of the cetacean species (whales, dolphins and porpoises) off Ireland’s south coast.

The project is led by Ocean Research and Conservation Association (ORCA) Ireland and supported by Huawei Ireland. The project launched in 2021 and, at a recent event in Baltimore Castle in Cork, the project team shared an update on their progress.

At this OceanTech Summit event, members of the project explained the various types of technology that are being used as prototypes. Emer Keaveney, co-founder and executive director of ORCA Ireland, said the project’s “flagship technology” is the Cork Acoustics Buoy.

This buoy acts as both “an aid to navigation and a data buoy”, as it can detect animal sounds in real time and send this data to a Huawei cloud server.

“With that data stored in the cloud, we can use AI and machine learning algorithms to detect different animals within the soundscape and to pick out different call types, and train these algorithms so that one day we have an automated multispecies classification system,” Keaveney said.

There are various potential applications for this technology, such as notifying ships if they are approaching areas where whales are present to prevent disruptions. It is also hoped that the technology can help in the planning of marine infrastructure such as offshore renewable sites, to minimise the noise impact on marine life during the construction phase.

Huawei Ireland’s head of PR Luke McDonnell said the company is supporting the Smart Whale Sounds project through its Tech4All initiative, which is Huawei’s long-term digital inclusion initiative and action plan.

“We have more than 25 Tech4All projects running in Europe and the Orca Ireland’s Smart Whales project focuses on marine conservation and also ocean sustainability,” McDonnell said.

Luis Neves, the CEO of Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative, said digital technologies will play a vital role in tackling the climate crisis and “broader sustainability issues”.

“What we see is that technology and digital will be a fundamental driver of sustainable development,” Neves said.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic