Our remote hydrophone field sites are comprised of lots of little devices and wires, each performing a crucial function to make the whole system work. These bits and pieces fall under one of three major components.
A hydrophone is a highly sensitive microphone, about the size of a Gerkin pickle that, when placed underwater at a certain depth, can detect the most minute sounds from miles away. They can make a Coonstripe Shrimp that happens to wander by sound like Godzilla. The signal from the hydrophone runs through specialized cable and into a “brain box”, where it is connected to a device that isolates it from any electrical interference. These microphones are so sensitive that they cannot be plugged into the same power source as another piece of equipment, or we will hear static.
Whales have an incredible vocal range, “singing” in pitches both higher and lower than what the human ear can translate unaided. Because of this range, the sound coming from the hydrophone must travel through an amplifier to boost the power of the signal to a suitable level.
Pacific Wild uses two methods to transmit the hydrophone’s audio to our office and into Bella Bella, which are kilometers apart. The first is FM transmission. One of our hydrophones is connected to an FM transmitter, providing instant access to anybody in the area with an FM radio. If you’re near Bella Bella, tune in to 92.3FM for a live underwater orchestra!
The second is through microwave antennas, which wirelessly transmit the audio feed through a central relay hub and then to our server in the Bella Bella Community School. This allows us to remotely monitor all of our hydrophones on one computer.
And just like any other electronics, all of these systems require electricity. Our sites tend to be located off of uninhabited islands where electrical sockets are scarce, to say the least. We use a variety of forms of alternative energy, primarily solar and wind. At each hydrophone site, we strategically place solar panels and a wind generator. This sustainable energy charges a small battery bank and will ideally keep these hydrophone sites running for years to come.