Halifax, NS — JASCO Applied Sciences was honoured with the 2nd annual Gully Recognition Award for its contributions to the scientific understanding of the Gully Marine Protected Area (MPA). The award is given yearly by the Gully Advisory Committee, a group of government and non-government entities that advises the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) regarding the management of the Gully MPA.
The Gully is the largest submarine canyon in the northwest Atlantic Ocean, located 200 km off Nova Scotia and 40 km east of Sable Island. This canyon cuts through the edge of the of the Scotian shelf, where the continental slope gives way to the abyssal plain of the deep ocean. The Gully was designated a MPA in 2004 to provide legal protection for its unique ecosystem. The abundant food supply of the Gully attracts at least 16 species of whales and dolphins. Some are found seasonally, like blue whales in summer, and some are present year-round like the Scotian Shelf population of northern bottlenose whales for which the Gully is critical habitat.
Priority conservation issues for the Gully MPA include protecting whales and dolphins from impacts caused by human activities, including those from underwater noise. JASCO’s contribution to understanding the effects of sound in this region began in 2003 with measurements of the sound levels from a marine seismic program on caged snow crabs, part of an exposure study conducted by the DFO. Since 2010 JASCO scientists have worked with the Bedford Institute of Oceanography (BIO) to deploy and retrieve acoustic recorders in the Gully and surrounding areas, recording an almost continuous soundscape history for over seven years. These recordings have contributed to the scientific understanding of numerous species in the Gully, including northern bottlenose whale, humpback whale, fin whale, and white-sided dolphin, as well as the lesser known Sowerby’s beaked whale. JASCO has also assisted BIO with data analyses and contributed to publication of results in scientific journals. Roberto Racca, the company’s Chief Communications Officer and one if its founding members, commented on the collaboration: “The Gully study is an example of JASCO’s commitment to long-term scientific pursuits that enhance the understanding of marine life and our ability to protect it. Projects like this are a source of scientific pride for our group, as they give us the opportunity to make more far-reaching contributions to knowledge than is possible from operation-specific advisory studies.”
JASCO received the award at the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History, a fitting venue given the history of collaboration between the two entities. The museum’s marine gallery includes an interactive exhibit contributed by JASCO, which plays vocalizations of various marine mammal species that inhabit the Gully. The exhibit also features JASCO’s educational DORI software, which gives a glimpse into the science of acoustic detection and classification. When visitors make sounds into a microphone, DORI, which stands for Detecting Oceanic Real-time Impersonations, shows a cartoon of the marine mammal they most resemble overlaid on a rendering of the frequency distribution of the sounds. Software engineer Briand Gaudet created DORI by adapting JASCO’s marine mammal acoustic detection software to work with the human voice. “It started out as a ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…’ pet project” says Briand, “and it turned into a really engaging outreach tool. It’s always a hit with the kids.” The museum exhibit contributes to public awareness of the Gully and gives an engaging way for the public to interact with the science. JASCO has also contributed several legacy underwater recorders and floats to the exhibit to give it the authentic feel of a scientific expedition at sea.
“As a corporation, this company has put countless hours and resources into the Gully. Not just the developmental work, but the science,” said DFO biologist Paul Macnab. “The number of times we’ve had a small contract with an amplifier effect, where very talented people at JASCO have gone above and beyond […] to support us is more than I can count.”
Macnab presented Gaudet with BIO’s book Voyage of Discovery: Fifty Years of Marine Research at Canada's Bedford Institute of Oceanography. A plaque to commemorate the award is forthcoming.