Thursday, December 31, 2009

Iridium Finds Whale-Warning Application

Iridium low Earth orbit communications satellites are being used to warn high-speed ferries and other shipping in the northwestern Mediterranean of the presence of whales, an unusual application of the satellite service's maritime capabilities.

A program called Real-time Plotting of Cetaceans allows crews on ships passing through the Pelagos Sanctuary for Marine Mammals to record and pass along whale sightings through the Iridium constellation to a central server that collates the sightings and issues warnings - again through Iridium - to ships in the area.

There are an estimated 3,000-5,000 sperm and fin whales in the area, which are large enough to damage vessels striking them at high speeds. The system also protects the animals from death or injury, and to aid their conservation includes a prohibition on using the warnings to hunt whales or otherwise harm them. Potential users are screened by an "ethical commission" to ensure the system is used properly.

"We are targeting passenger transport companies as our first priority, since these vessels operate daily at significant speeds, which statistically increases the risk of collision," said Pascal Mayol, a director of the Souffleurs d'Ecume wildlife-conservati
on organization that participates in the program's management. "We are also in the process of expanding the program to encompass all types of vessels, such as merchant ships, private yachts, navy craft, fishing boats and racing sailboats, some of which have already expressed interest in subscribing."

The system, set up by Chrisar Software Technologies and Iridium's Applied Satellite Engineering unit, uses the Iridium short-burst data modem and custom software.

"The centralized system server-client architecture and database, along with Iridium's global coverage, will facilitate rapid deployment of this unique service in other regions of the world," said Patrick Mugnier, Chrisar managing director.

Those same capabilities also are making the Iridium system attractive to commercial fishing vessels, according to Iridium Communications Inc., the Bethesda, Md.-based company that operates the LEO satcom constellation. Its "Open Port" service allows fishing crews to send and receive e-mails, access Web sites and read weather forecasts without subscribing to a third-party service.

"Iridium OpenPort provides excellent coverage and performance even when we are fishing in Arctic waters that are not reliably served by other satellite services," said Kristinn Danielsson, electronics engineer for Samherji HF, an Icelandic seafood company that operates fishing vessels worldwide.

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