Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

New research claims thermal detection may save whales

A new study has concluded that thermal imaging technology could help ships avoid hitting whales.

Martin Stanley, a consultant scientist from Ocean Life Survey has been working in partnership with the Ports of Auckland on a joint initiative that has trialled and proved a thermal imaging technique to detect surfacing whales from the heat of their bodies and blows.

The scientific study was led last year by Martin Stanley, with the support of Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari, to test and explore whether this technology could be used to successfully detect Bryde’s whales at distances that would allow large commercial vessels to avoid potential ship strike.

Stanley says “We can detect the whales by the heat of their own bodies and breath. Using thermal imaging technology we can ‘see’ the whales in real time, day or night.”

Ports of Auckland supported the research as part of its work to mitigate the impact of ship strike on the local population of Bryde’s whales. The company has been working with shipping lines to reduce ship speed, an effort that has been successful to date with a 15% reduction in average ship speeds in the Hauraki Gulf from 14.2 knots to 12 knots.

Port Chief Executive Tony Gibson says “while slowing ships is an effective way to reduce ship strike, it comes at significant cost which adds to import and export costs for New Zealand. If we can find a way for ships to spot and avoid whales, this could be of significant benefit to the whales as well as importers and exporters.”

Between 2006 and 2012, 15 Bryde’s whales were confirmed to have been killed by commercial shipping in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf, with another killed by ship strike in 2014. With a population of an estimated 46 full year residents and up to 159 seasonally resident Bryde’s whales in the Hauraki Gulf, home to one of the only few resident Bryde populations, ship strike represents the greatest known threat and cause of death.

Other large whale species that seasonally visit the Hauraki Gulf include the Blue, Fin, Sei, Humpback, and Southern Right whales and could equally find protection in thermal imaging technology.

Stanley adds that as well as having a ship-board use, the technology “could also be deployed on coastal vantage points around busy port waters to provide additional coverage and protection. The use and development of this technology could have a significant positive impact on the conservation of large whale species, many of which are threatened or endangered.” The thermal detection work is a component of a series of technological detection methods investigated and trialled by Ocean Life Survey.

“The next stage would be to develop our findings with the technology into a practical application that could be used by the international shipping industry and port authorities around the world. We now hope to find commercial and industry partners who we can work with to achieve this objective” says Stanley.


For further information contact: 

Martin Stanley
P: + 44 07587476395 
E: [email protected] 

Martin Stanley is based in the United Kingdom and is available for comment via phone between 20:00- 9:30 (NZST). If leaving a message, please provide a landline contact for your call to be returned. 

Matt Ball
Head of Communications
P: 09 348 5262
M: 021 495 645
E: [email protected]

Alexandra Ropati
Senior Communications Advisor
P: 09 348 5247
E: [email protected] 

After Hours Media Contact Number (5.30 pm – 8.00 am): 09 348 5040​