1. There is strong socio-political support for offshore wind development in US territorial waters and construction is planned off several east coast states. Some of the planned development sites coincide with important habitat for critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. Both exclusion zones and passive acoustic monitoring are important tools for managing interactions between marine mammals and human activities. Understanding where animals are with respect to exclusion zones is important to avoid costly construction delays while minimizing the potential for negative impacts. Impact piling from construction of hundreds of offshore wind turbines likely require exclusion zones as large as 10 km.
2. We have developed a three-hydrophone passive acoustic monitoring system that provides bearing information along with marine mammal detections to allow for informed management decisions in real-time. Multiple units form a monitoring system designed to determine whether marine mammal calls originate from inside or outside of an exclusion zone. In October 2021, we undertook a full system validation, with a focus on evaluating the detection range and bearing accuracy of the system with respect to right whale upcalls. Five units were deployed in Mid-Atlantic waters and we played more than 3500 simulated right whale upcalls at known locations to characterize the detection function and bearing accuracy of each unit. The modelled results of the detection function error were then used to compare the effectiveness of a bearing-based system to a single sensor that can only detect a signal but not ascertain directivity.
3. Field trials indicated maximum detection ranges from 4–7.3 km depending on source and ambient noise levels. Simulations showed that incorporating bearing detections provide a substantial improvement in false alarm rates (6 to 12 times depending on number of units, placement and signal to noise conditions) for a small increase in the risk of missed detections inside of an exclusion zone (1%–3%).
4. We show that the system can be used for monitoring exclusion zones and clearly highlight the value of including bearing estimation into exclusion zone monitoring plans while noting that placement and configuration of units should reflect anticipated ambient noise conditions.