Orcasound Lab hydrophone

Centered within the summertime habitat of the endangered southern resident killer whales, Orcasound Lab is a good place to listen for orcas as well as ships passing through Haro Strait and boats traveling along the west side of San Juan Island. In the fall you can hear humpbacks, and in the summer male harbor seals vocalize nearby. The hydrophones were first deployed in 2002 just beyond the kelp about 30 m offshore at a depth of 8m. Orcasound Lab is hosted by Beam Reach, a social purpose corporation based in Seattle (WA, USA).

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Overview and credits:

Orcasound Lab is also the laboratory and home of Dr. Val Veirs and Leslie Veirs. Val first deployed hydrophones there in the early 2000s with physics and environmental science students from Colorado College. Early on, the node hosted an array of 4-8 hydrophones stretched ~200 meters along-shore at depths of 5-20 meters.

Since then, there have been many experimental hydrophone deployments, repairs, and acoustic research projects conducted at the node. Orcasound Lab is where we often test new technologies and hardware before sharing them with the rest of the hydrophone network.

The 2018 binaural array (with panty-hose flow noise reducers).

In November, 2018, we were streaming from and testing ITC hydrophones with custom pre-amps mounted on PVC tripods 1-2 m above the gravel bottom. We also began testing a binaural array with elements from LabCore Systems (Lon Brocklehurst) and Cetacean Research Technology (Joe Olson).

Cables traverse the rocky intertidal within drainage pipe protection or up a crab pot line anchored by a sub-tidal boulder and the bluff, and then run to both data-logging and streaming computers. Custom software written in Visual Basic and more recently Qt by Val Veirs assesses average underwater sound levels and automatically detects “unusual” sounds, while the 2019 Orcasound hardware/software streams data to the cloud.

More photographs of Orcasound Lab:

Google shared album
WA Dept. of Ecology aerial photo

The rocky intertidal terrain at Orcasound Lab.

18 thoughts on “Orcasound Lab hydrophone

    1. Scott Veirs says:

      It’s a web based app. Just browse to live.orcasound.net and select a location to listen to (via a green “Listen to…” button).

  1. Amy Aycrigg says:

    If you are wanting listeners “hearings” how do we communicate that to you/the lab

  2. Anna Stenmark says:

    Just curious, am I the only one that get a blank page when clicking “listen now”? It used to work just fine. I really want to listen! 🙂 I keep coming back every day to try it but it just wont work.

    1. Scott Veirs says:

      Your best bet may be to try Chrome. If you keep having trouble, fill out our feedback form so our engineers can try to fix the problems your experiencing…

  3. Harry Reid says:

    At about 1:45 into the Orcasounds youtube video, there are a set of calls listed as being made by N4, N7, etc. Is this indicating that these sounds are from members of an N pod? I’m not familiar with an N pod.

    Also, do you know if these calls are only made by specific individuals, or are they unique to a particular matriline or pod.

    I give talks on orca as a volunteer, including sometimes doing sound demos, and I try to be as accurate as possible with my explanations. Thank you!

    1. Scott Veirs says:

      Hi Harry,

      N pod is one of the northern resident killer whale pods that frequents the coastal waters of British Columbia, Canada. You can often hear these orcas vocalizing on the Orca-live hydrophone network maintained by Paul Spong and Helena Symonds in Johnstone Strait.

      Teasing apart exactly who is making which calls is tricky with killer whales. The problem is that individuals usually swim in groups so close together that it is difficult for arrays of hydrophones to locate the source of the sound with enough precision to discern whether a matriarch or her offspring made the call. In fall 2007, one of the Orcasound network members (Beam Reach) used a towed linear array of 4 hydrophones to localize calls exchanged between a juvenile southern resident and its two closest family members. You can read about that localization success in the Beam Reach wiki. For a similar (and peer-reviewed) success in northern residents, see this 2004 article by Patrick Miller.

  4. Zharif says:

    Im interested to know, base on your projects. How far can the hydrophone detect small boats sound?

    1. Scott Veirs says:

      Detection range depends on the ambient noise level at the hydrophone and the source level at the boat, but typically we hear fast-moving power boats at ranges of a few kilometers.

    1. Scott Veirs says:

      Hi LaLa,
      That can happen for a lot of reasons. It can be a problem at the hydrophone (e.g. a wire breaking temporarily), but usually it is a data flow problem — either the Internet connection is slow on the upload side from the hydrophone or on the download side (via the web app on your phone/laptop/etc browser). Feel free to submit feedback about performance issues using the button on the bottom of the web app and we’ll try to troubleshoot with you and improve performance over time.
      Happy listening,

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