Acoustic Wildlife Data Research and Development

Collecting acoustic wildlife data to further protect wildlife and their habitat
Environmental monitoring data captured by oil sands operators could be used across projects and regionally to better protect sensitive and at risk species

Northern Alberta is home to a vast array of wildlife. To minimize disruptions to the different species and their habitat, companies need to know their location. Until recently, locating and assessing habitat use for many animal species was a labour-intensive and specialized skill.

The widespread use of acoustic recording units (ARUs) has significantly improved the way we now monitor species. These devices record vocalizations so biologists can analyze the recordings to determine the presence of rare or hard-to-detect species, primarily birds and amphibians.

The development of new guidelines and standardized protocols for ARUs allows data to be gathered more accurately, anywhere, anytime. Locating local animals helps protect them and helps us plan projects taking their unique habitat needs into account.

Technology and Innovation

ARUs have been deployed by several COSIA member companies across their development sites. However, there is no centralized hub to manage the large volume of digital data being collected.

This project is creating an online computer system to manage, process and disseminate acoustic data from ARUs. The system, once complete, will compile ARU data collected by various oil sands companies into an online repository so it can be efficiently analyzed and stored.

Data and protocols will be made available to the public for potential citizen science or inclusion in community-based monitoring programs.

The project is also designed to address several issues related to ARU use, including:

  • Optimal volume of data to be collected and analyzed.
  • Optimal spatial distribution of ARUs.
  • Temporal scheduling of data collection (daily and seasonally).
  • File compression standards for archival purposes.

The system will disseminate results in a number of ways, including species identification as summary tables and / or written reports. A primary benefit of the system will be the creation of a data entry interface that will standardize data capture in a consistent manner, allowing deeper analyses of combined data sets.

Environmental Benefits

ARUs record vocalizations, while innovative software analyzes the recordings to determine the presence of rare or hard-to-detect species, primarily birds, amphibians, and bats. Because ARUs are automated, use of this technology increases data reliability, reduces cost and safety risks associated with performing field surveys, and allows ongoing wildlife monitoring in remote and difficult terrain. Developing new methods for ARU use allows for research into questions about impacts to sensitive and at risk species.

Application of this innovative technology develops new insights into industry impacts to biodiversity and enables the oil sands industry to develop new ways to plan and manage projects. The goal is to organize and house all of this data in a central hub, to help companies better protect wildlife and their habitat.


The Acoustic Wildlife Data Research and Development Joint Industry Project is being led by Canadian Natural.

Erin Bayne, Professor with the University of Alberta, is leading this research with funding by Canadian Natural, ConocoPhillips Canada, Shell, and Suncor.