A comparison of methods for detecting right whale calls

David K. Mellinger


North Atlantic, North Pacific, and southern right whales all produce the up call, a frequency-modulated upsweep in the 50-200 Hz range. This call is one of the most common sounds, and frequently the most common sound, received from right whales, and as such is a useful indicator of the presence of right whales for acoustic surveys. A data set was prepared of 1857 calls and 6359 non-call sounds recorded from North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) near Georgia and Massachusetts. Two methods for the detection of the calls were compared: spectrogram correlation and a neural network. Spectrogram correlation parameters were chosen two ways, by manual choice using a sample of 20 calls, and by an optimization procedure that used all available calls. Neural network weights were trained via backpropagation on 9/10 of the test data set. Performance was measured separately for calls of different signal-to-noise ratio, as SNR heavily influences the performance of any detector. Results showed that the neural network performed best at this task, achieving an error rate of less than 6%, and is thus the preferred detection method here. Spectrogram correlation may be useful in situations in which a large set of training data is not available, as manual training on a small set of examples achieved an error rate (26%) that may be acceptable for many applications.


Conservation; Error analysis; Frequency modulation; Hydrophones; Marine biology; Neural networks; Optimization; Parameter estimation; Personnel training; Real time systems; Signal to noise ratio; Error rate; Manual training; Spectrogram correlation; Spectrograms

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