Quick tune-up for the Bush Point hydrophone

Over the last month or two the Bush Point hydrophone signal has been getting slowly weaker. Recently, I’ve had to crank the volume on my computer to max to even hear faint ocean sounds.

So, when I was up on Whidbey Island for a meeting in Langley with Orca Network, I decided to go take a quick look at the system. Because I suspected that the hydrophone was getting buried deeper and deeper in the sea floor, I even brought my snorkel gear, thinking I’d participate in the #SalishSplash by going out and digging it out…

Conveniently, Bonnie (the caretaker of the hydrophone host’s Bush Point Bed and Breakfast) was on-site and available to let me go out on the private pier from which the hydrophone is deployed. As we walked out, she explained that a winter storm had torn most of the plywood off the pier and only recently had workmen made it safe for walking again. That enabled me to pull up the hydrophone without getting wet! I found it had a nice kelp holdfast, a barnacle, and a variety of other invertebrates colonizing the green electrical tape with which Lon had wrapped the hydrophone element. I cleaned the marine life off mercilessly and tossed everything back into the sea. Impressively, the storm didn’t seem to have damaged the cable running around the perimeter of the pier and the B&B, and Lon’s junction box mounted to a piling seemed intact, as well.

Bush Point B&B pier under repair.

Inside the B&B garage, Lon’s hydrophone power system and the Orcasound data streaming equipment seemed in good order. (No rodents chewing on wires is a good thing!) The signal was still week, though, so I used Lon’s three gains to boost it as a container ship and bulk carrier passed nearby in Admiralty Inlet. With a slight increase in the gain on the Orcasound streaming system’s sound board, too, I could hear the ships pretty well via the live stream at live.orcasound.net.

The green box with Orcasound streaming computer being fed by Lon’s LabCore hydrophone amplification system.

Heading back towards Seattle, I continued to listen with my phone and kept an eye on the range to the ships from the Bush Point hydrophone using the marinetraffic.com app. Slowly the ship noise faded away and I could again hear the natural soundscape of Admiralty inlet, including the waves crashing through the pilings at the end of the pier. There’s an intermittent crackling sound and a little hum that suggests we’ll need to revamp the system again at some point, but for now we are poised to hear the sounds of the orcas when they next visit Puget Sound.

As I listen to the live feed, the Bush Point B&B (on the water to the right) is passed by the container ship OOCL Kaohsiung bound from Roberts Bank Terminal to the Port of Seattle (southbound) and the bulk carrier CL Zhenjiang bound from Yangzhou to Vancouver (northbound, so via a U.S. port within Puget Sound).

Link to more photos!

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