Friday, January 23, 2009

"How About 'Bump Detectors' for the Superferry?"

Lee Tepley, Ph.D. released the following today:

"How about 'Bump detectors' for the Superferry?" -- Feel free to circulate
by Lee Tepley, Ph.D.

...Before the present case was initiated before the Hawaii Supreme Court, I had put in a lot of time documenting the threats to whales caused by fast ferries...

Anyhow, Koohan [Paik]’s request started me thinking about the Superferry again. I had expected that the Superferry, now into it’s 2nd whale season, would have hit a few whales but - so far - no collisions have been reported. Why not??

Perhaps no collisions have occurred – or perhaps they have occurred but were not observed or reported.

After a bit of thought, I realized that it would be difficult to verify a collision even if there was no attempt at a cover-up.

Consider a case where one or more whales surface a short distance in front of the Superferry which is charging along at it’s usual 40 mph. Maybe the Superferry pilot sees the whales and attempts to manuever or slow down – but in a few seconds the whales would be close to the pontoons – and a few seconds later the Superferry would have passed over the whales whether or not there had been a collison. And in another 10 seconds the Superferry would be far ahead of the whales – so, if they were hit, their bleeding bodies would quickly disappear in the distance. They might drift out to sea or, perhaps, be eaten by sharks.

And if the Superferry did hit a whale, would there be a detectable bump?? A simple calculation shows that if the whale weighed less than 10 tons (baby or juvenile), the bump would be very small and might not be felt. If the whale were full grown (about 100 tons), the bump would probably be felt. But so what?? The disturbance would last for only a few seconds. Would anyone bother to report it?? And without a dead body, the bump would not really prove anything.

However, dead Humpbacks might drift in to shore and onto a beach – as dead Sperm whales often do in the Canary Islands when they are hit by fast ferries similar to the Hawaii Superferry. And, if this happened, their cut-up bodies could strongly suggest an impact pontoons.

But the distances between the Hawaiian Islands are much greater than the distances between the Canary Islands – and the Hawaiian islands don’t have nearly as many beaches as the Canaries – so the odds of dead whales drifting ashore are much less in Hawaii than in the Canaries. Dead whales would most likely drift out to sea.
[Dead whales tell no tails...--Ed.]

So it might take many years before a collision between the Superferry and a whale is ever verified. The way things are now, all we can do is wait.

But there are ways of detecting ship-whale collisions – although the Superferry people will not like them. Duane Erway, Dr. Alex Reynolds and myself have already suggested them at various Superferry meetings and they are discussed in detail on my web site. Go to:

Then link to the page: Detecting Whale Collisions - Kona EIS Scoping Meeting

The Superferry Company has, of course, ignored our suggestions – so it is time to bring them up again.

In this high-tech world, there are a number of gadgets that can be used to detect ship-whale collisions. Cory Harden suggested calling them “Bump Detectors.” Four such bump detectors are outlined below. For redundancy, they should probably all be employed at once.

Upon a ship-whale collision, they would all put out electrical signals which would be recorded on a hard drive on the Superferry. The hard drive must not be accessible to the Superferry’s crew. It would have to be removed periodically and the data would be analyzed on a computer by an independent observer.

Installing the bump detectors and analyzing the data would cost money – but what’s a few bucks to the Superferry company? They seem happy to lose money on almost every voyage.

The bump detectors are as follows:

Bump Detector #1 - Accelerometer. This device measures acceleration directly. A unit should be placed on the front of each pontoon. The electrical signal will indicate the magnitude of the bump.

Bump Detector #2 - Hydrophone. This is an underwater microphone. One should be mounted on the front of each pontoon near an accelerometer. It will put out an electrical signal proportional to the sound made by a body hitting the pontoon.

The electrical signals from the accelerometers and hydrophones will be redundant. They will both identify collisions but will not show the cause of the collisions so the recorded data will not be conclusive.

Bump Detector #3 - Low intensity, high frequency, forward-looking Sonar. Sonar systems should be mounted on both pontoons. They would provide a crude picture of marine mammals approaching and striking a pontoon. It would be necessary to look at the sonar data only at times immediately preceeding a bump as detected by the accelerometers and/or hydrophones. The sonar signals would not be strong enough to cause hearing damage to marine mammals that do not strike the pontoons. Many high frequency sonars are similar to fish finders.

Bump Detector #4 - Video camera. This would give an accurate picture of marine mammals approaching and striking the pontoons. They would have to be carefully mounted to avoid water bubbles forming in front of the camera housing and ruining the picture. A collision might destroy a camera housing but not before the picture was sent to the hard drive. The video signal would have to be analyzed only in the time interval just before a collision activates an accelerometer or hydrophone. It could be erased at all other times so video data would use very little drive space.

Data from the above four bump detectors would result in accurate and undeniable identification of collisions between marine mammals and the Superferry.

Cory Harden believes that it is important for you to include the use of bump detectors in your comments on the phony pseudo-EIS. I hope that Cory is right.

Lee Tepley

1 comment:

MauiBrad said...

Received and synopsized this follow-up from Dr. Tepley, a retired physicist:

"NOAA’S position on the Superferry more on vessel-whale collisions and 'Bump Detectors'" - Feel free to circulate.

On Jan. 20, 2009, I [Lee] tried to send an e-mail to my long mailing list advocating the use of “Bump Detectors” on the Superferry. I pointed out that...a bump is not really conclusive.

I could not send the e-mail to my mailing list...then asked Jeff Sacher to forward my message to his mailing list as both a regular e-mail and as a PDF file. Jeff obliged...

I then left town for a few days. When I returned, I learned that on Jan. 21, the day after Jeff forwarded my e-mail, the Superferry [was alledged to have] hit a whale but – surprise, surprise - NOAA does not think that the evidence is strong
enough to merit an investigation. This is in line with the [forethought] in my email.

Both the Superferry company and NOAA stated that there was no
evidence that the Superferry had hit a whale...

“Bumps” without “bodies” will never be taken seriously – and “bodies” will [normally] be hard to come by...

The purposes of this effort is to again emphasize the importance of
“Bump Detectors” and to show the similarities and differences between [potential] vessel-whale collisions from the Superferry, fast ferries in the Canary
Islands and mono-hull [vessels] in other parts of the world.

In the Canaries, fast ferries, similar to the Superferry, went into operation in 1999. Shortly after that date, researchers began to find dismembered or cutup
bodies of Sperm whales on beaches and in shallow bays...

The known death rate increased from less than one/year (pre-fast ferries) to about six per year (post-fast ferries). In 2007, the last year in which data were reported, 9 sperm whales were killed...

Many researchers in the Canary Islands believe that only about 20% of struck sperm whales are stranded. The rest [are believed to] drift out to open water.

The collision rate is so high that some Canary Island researchers feel that the survival of the Canary Island Sperm whale population is at risk.

Although the scientific evidence seems overwhelming that the Sperm whales were killed by fast Canary ferries, there [have seldom been] actual witnesses to the killings, and the local authorities cooperate with the ferry company in denying that the fast ferries are responsible.

So what does this remind you of? In Hawaii, [has] NOAA...taken the same position as the Canary Island local authorities[?]...

Both the Hawaii and the Canaries are picturesque volcanic island groups. But the Hawaiian Islands are much more widely separated than the Canaries. And there are relatively few beaches available for dead whales to strand in Hawaii. And whales are an important tourist attraction in both island groups. But the
local authorities in the Canaries show no hesitancy in letting fast Canary ferries decimate the sperm whale population. ...Should we expect NOAA, the Superferry Company or the Lingle administration to take a
different attitude in Hawaii??

...But Catamaran fast ferries – like the Canary not have bow bulbs for dead whales to ride on. So when a vessel-whale
collision occurs, whales at or near the surface...impact the sharp pontoons. Water pressure forces the bodies into the pontoons and gravity pulls the bodies downward. The pontoons then cut-up the bodies which then drift away.

So unless “bump detectors” – as described in my last e-mail - are installed, the ...ferry company and/or NOAA, can always deny that a collision has occurred. As happened on Jan. 21, a large bump can always be blamed on a large wave or rough seas.

...Your comments on this in the
[pseudo]-EIS is one place to start...

Lee Tepley