June 10, 2020

News Sphyrna Odyssey mission

Listening to sperm whales

Following initial analyses of the acoustic data collected during the Sphyrna Odyssey 2019-2020, scientists from Toulon University deduce that Mediterranean sperm whales coordinate when they hunt with the clicks of their biosonar. Calculations carried out on tens of thousands of clicks show for the first time in the world that these super predators regularly coordinate during their probes, pointing their sonar emissions in the same direction.

Strength in numbers

Even though these sperm whales are 500 m apart, their actions are concerted and their movements are synchronous.

An individual which dive collects information about the bottom and the prey on it by the echo of the sound it emits. These same signals could be heard by the neighbours of his Alliance*, who are listening in the same direction. The partners also emit a sound, which gives additional information to what the first individual is hearing. It is a real-time exchange. It is also conceivable that they transmit signals to each other describing what they perceive. They could derive a benefit from this, in the quality of their perception of their environment: all the echoes of the sounds emitted by the members of the Alliance would go beyond each individual perception.

We can see, on the 3D representations developed by Pr. Hervé Glotin’s team, that following these Alliances, some sperm whales follow deeper trajectories towards -1700 m off the coast of Monaco. Then they sweep a large volume of water, and probably capture several squids.

* The Alliance is a cooperative bond that persists over time between the allies. It’s a pattern known among top predators such as lions and wolves. The most studied case of Alliance among cetaceans are pairs or triplets of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops Truncatus) that cooperate for different tasks. An Alliance is often between individuals of the same family.

In the case of sperm whales, no hunting Alliance has ever been observed.

3D representation, axes in metres, of such a scene, recorded from the surface by the Sphyrna Odyssey mission in January 2020 off the coast of Monaco. The scrolling of time is multiplied by 10, each track is a probe of a sperm whale, from 30 to 50 minutes, which will then breath without clicking (no track) for 10 to 20 minutes, before diving back down.

Reducing the speed of ships in the Mediterranean

This discovery reinforces the recommendations of scientists who are warning of the importance of reducing the rate of noise pollution due to human activities. According to Hervé Glotin, Scientific Director of the Sphyrna Odyssey mission, a 15 to 20% reduction in the speed of ships in the Mediterranean Sea would significantly reduce the noise impact on cetaceans and could help their nutrition, and therefore their reproduction, and thus slow down their disappearance.

27 april 2020

Special Sphyrna Odyssey operation “QUIET SEA”

27 April, 2020

Special Sphyrna Odyssey operation “QUIET SEA”

Lockdown measures related to the coronavirus outbreak led to a sharp decrease in maritime and air traffic and an unusually low noise level at sea.

On 23 April 2020, the Sphyrna Odyssey scientific mission initiated, with the agreement of the authorities, the “QUIET SEA” operation to measure the impact of this particular situation on the behaviour of cetaceans in the Mediterranean via acoustic recordings.

For 10 days, the team led by Hervé Glotin, professor at the University of Toulon, will visit the Pelagos sanctuary in the Mediterranean Sea with two autonomous surface vessels Sphyrna from Seaproven, remotely monitored from a catamaran.

This operation completes the previous Sphyrna Odyssey 2019 mission conducted between September 2019 and March 2020. The recordings that will be made can be compared with the datas taken before the containment. These analyses will provide valuable additional information on the impact of underwater noise on cetaceans.

The first day of the mission was marked by the encounter with about fifteen bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncatus, which were next to the vessels for more than an hour in the waters of Port-Cros National Park.

March 25, 2020 

Six months listening to the abyss

Assessment of the expedition

The Sphyrna Odyssey Mission, initiated by Sea Proven, Marine & Oceans and the Computer and Systems Laboratory (LIS) of the University of Toulon was expected to reach Monaco for the Monaco Ocean Week. It was shortened by a few days due to the Covid19 crisis and ended in Toulon on 14 March 2020.

Launched in September 2019 with the main support of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, the Monaco Explorations Society and ACCOBAMS, it brought together scientists, engineers, logisticians and communication specialists for the first oceanographic mission ever conducted in France from autonomous vessels.

On this occasion we are sharing with you a whole dossier dedicated to the mission published in the latest issue of the magazine Marine et Océans, including an exclusive cross interview with Mr Philippe Mondielli, Scientific Director of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation and Mr Gilles Bessero, Chief Operation Officerof Monaco Explorations.

20 September to 20 December 2019


Listening to marine mammals

To better understand how sperm whales, Cuvier’s beaked whales, Risso’s dolphins,
and pilot whales move at great depths in the Mediterranean Sea, a unique study,
supported by Monaco Explorations, the Prince Albert II Foundation and the Accobams, is
currently taking place in the Mediterranean from 20 September to 20 December 2019.

2200 km in three months

The SPHYRNA project operates from two oceanic naval drones of 17 and 21 metres in length. From
Toulon to Genoa, via Corsica and Baelaric Islands, these autonomous laboratory vessels will
collect acoustic data, without approaching the animals and, therefore, without disturbing them. But:
reconstitute the diving sequence in three dimensions and see how these large sounders
adapt to the sound nuisance due to human activities.

More information

Discover the video of the mission on the website of Sphyrna Odyssey: