Vineyard Wind Invests in "Autonomous Lookout" to Protect Whales

Whale breaching
Charles River Analytics' "autonomous lookout" can spot and categorize objects, including whales (CRA)

Published Nov 17, 2022 7:57 PM by The Maritime Executive

The first full-scale offshore wind farm in the United States, Vineyard Wind, is under construction now off the coast of Massachusetts, and its developer is investing in extra measures to prevent whale strikes during construction. It plans to deploy computer vision technology to watch out for whales, vessels, fishing buoys and other objects at long distances, giving its crews early warning. 

Vineyard has signed up to use Awarion, an "autonomous lookout system" for maritime applications. Its maker, Charles River Analytics, says that its algorithms "never tire" or suffer from "fatigue and distraction" like a human lookout might. The system can automatically analyze the trajectory of targets and assess which might pose a risk.

The company says that its system can accurately detect whales about 80 percent of the time and ships 90 percent of the time. This will help designated protected species observers (PSOs) to spot marine mammals and take measures to minimize any harm.

Vineyard Wind says that the cost of the technology will be underwritten by an innovation fund it has set up for technology to protect marine mammals off the coast of Massachusetts. 

“The knowledge we’ve gained through working with marine mammal experts at the New England Aquarium and veteran mariners has been incorporated into this technology,” said Ross Eaton, Principal Scientist and Director of Marine Systems at Charles River Analytics. “AwarionTM is a ‘win-win’ for our team in that it combines marine science and cutting-edge technology that will have a positive impact on the natural environment.” 

Vineyard Wind will consist of 62 wind turbines off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, all spaced on a one-nautical-mile grid. Onshore work began earlier this year, and cable-lay operations for the project got under way on November 1.

“For a project that has achieved many firsts, the beginning of offshore cable installation is perhaps the most significant we have achieved so far,” said Vineyard Wind CEO Klaus S. Moeller. “To get to this point has required an amazing effort by the Vineyard Wind team."