Scientists’ Underwater Microphones Monitored By Militaries

NEPTUNE is used for hunting whale songs, but Canada and the US worry it could be used for other purposes

Steve Kaufman/CORBIS

Everybody knows that governments are really into collecting data these days. But they don’t so much enjoy having their data collected, as it turns out. Here, as reported by the Atlantic, is what happens when scientific data collection runs into national security concerns—underwater. 

See, there is this lovely network of underwater microphones that are used by scientists to record the cries of killer whales, the songs of humpbacks, the rumblings of earthquakes and the pings of sonar sweeps. Basically, if it’s underwater, this network, called NEPTUNE, hears it. And that’s a problem for the militaries of Canada and the U.S., both of which occasionally have ships in the waters, off the coast of Vancouver, that are being monitored by the scientists. 

The solution? As the Atlantic reports, every once in a while, the governments reroute the data to a computer in a cage and sift out incriminating submarine motor noises (or they bluff, just to keep everyone on their toes). 

So why are these governments worried about some underwater microphones? The Atlantic:

[I]t's not NEPTUNE's scientists the military is necessarily worried about. Because the hydrophones are connected to the internet, and the raw data they collect is archived and made available for anyone to access in near-real time. It's how non-scientists might use the data that's of primary concern.

The navies are, essentially, worried about being surveilled by us—and, presumably, by the militaries of foreign states.

And it’s not like the governments are just being paranoid. Back in April, analysts reported that China was busy installing hydrophones to track American submarines. And back in 2005, a Russian submarine got tangled in an old Russian hydrophone in the Pacific.