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Wave power nearly ready in Oregon: summer test of whale aversion sound system

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One of the more promising green energy technologies is wave power: off every coastline, near urban centers, a steady surge of waves holds the promise of round-the-clock power generation.  As ever, though, there are possible environmental impacts; one of the main ones for wave energy is the possibility of collisions with migrating whales.  Large baleen whales (gray, humpback, fin, blue) don’t use echolocation to forage, so are unlikely to notice offshore installations from a distance.  They are, however, careful listeners, and so Oregon State University researcher Bruce Mate is preparing to test a noise-making system that he hopes will hit the Goldilocks spot for migrating Gray whales: loud and un-natural enough to get there attention, but not so loud that it will cause widespread impacts.

“We do not even expect gray whales to react to the sound unless they are within 500 to 750 meters of the mooring location,” Mate said. “We’re not talking about much sound here.”  Mate said the acoustic device would emit one-eighth of one watt, which they hope will make the whales alter their paths about 500 meters from the noise. The system will be tested this fall, during the migration of single male Gray whales, and be suspended before mother-calf pairs begin their transit of the Oregon coast.

Ocean Power Technologies mockup

Ocean Power Technologies mockup

Ocean Power Technologies aims to deploy 12 wave power units 2.5 miles off Reedsport, Oregon, by 2012.  While whales may adapt fine to the new structures, the risk of a collision is considered to be something that could set back offshore renewable energy development for years.  The current research could inform future protective measures, should regulators or industry decide that they are necessary.

For more, see this OSU press release, this good overview article in Forbes, and this post on the Smart Planet blog.

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