Greece Adopts High-Tech Whale Safety Monitors for Strait of Kythira

Sperm whales in the Mediterranean (Hellenic Coast Guard file image)
Sperm whales in the Mediterranean (Hellenic Coast Guard file image)

Published Jun 19, 2024 8:29 PM by The Maritime Executive


The Greek government has reached an agreement with two NGOs, The Green Tank and OceanCare, to roll out the "SAvE Whales" detection and alert system in the Strait of Kythira. This special-purpose hydrophone array is designed to help protect endangered sperm whales from collisions with ships in areas where re-routing vessel traffic isn't practical.

"Today is a landmark day for the protection of sperm whales and the country's biodiversity protection policy," said Ioli Christopoulou, Co-founder and Policy Director of The Green Tank. 

The "SAvE Whales" system, developed by Dr. Emmanuel Skarsoulis from the Foundation for Research and Technology Hellas (FORTH), uses an array of three solar-powered buoys equipped with hydrophones to detect and locate sperm whales by the sound of the cetaceans' echolocation clicks. Using triangulation and computer processing, the system can automatically locate whales up to about four miles away at depths of up to 900 meters, and it can alert nearby ships to slow down or change course to reduce risk.

Ship strikes account for more than half of all sperm whale deaths in the Mediterranean. The Hellenic Trench - just west of Crete - is a particularly high-risk area because of its rich marine life, which attracts sperm whale mothers with calves.

The collaboration aims to scale up the "SAvE Whales" technology, and could make it an official mitigation and warning tool for mariners in the Strait of Kythira. The system has already been tested off Crete, and has proven effective at locating sperm whales to within about 40 meters.