Doug Gillespie is a senior research fellow working on methods for detecting and classifying the vocalisations of marine mammals. After completing a degree in physics with electronics at the University of Bath, he spent 18 months working with the International Fund for Animal Welfare developing systems to acoustically track sperm whales from small sailing research vessels. He then returned to university to complete a PhD in particle physics at the University of Liverpool and took a job building detectors for fundamental particles at CERN before deciding that the sea is a much better place to hang out than tunnels under Switzerland and France.
Back in the 1980’s available computers were not powerful enough to process acoustic data in real time. However, with the increased power available since the mid 90’s, it is now possible to develop software that will detect and classify sounds in real time on affordable PC’s. Douglas has been at the forefront of development of PC based sound analysis software, starting with the “RainbowClick” sperm whale detection software in 1995 and more recently with the open source PAMGuard software which is used worldwide for the detection, classification and localisation of marine mammal sounds.
As computers become ever more powerful, we have been able to develop more sophisticated detectors for more and more species, increasing the range of frequencies we can work at and the number of channels of data that can be processed. Now that we no longer hunger for more processing power, the trend in affordable computing has been for smaller and lower power devices. Indeed, most of us carry a mobile phone containing a processor that is more than capable of carrying out serious amounts of real-time data processing. Much of my current research therefore involves the development of detection systems that can run on low power devices mounted on moored buoys and autonomous vehicles such as submarine gliders. As well as the challenge of making useful detections on a limited power budget, we are also addressing the problem of how to interpret this type of data: for instance, if I hear 10,000 echolocation clicks from my glider, how many animals are there?
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For more information and details on Douglas’s publications see his page on the University of St Andrews research portal.