The business of Nova Scotia-based Ocean Sonics Ltd. can be boiled down to that one simple word.
In the world of ocean research, listening has become a crucial, and in-demand service, and this relatively-new Atlantic Canadian company, just nine years old, appears to be doing quite well.
Since the creation of the icListen Smart Hydrophone in 2011, the company has been growing its base of clients in the oil and gas and fishing sectors, as well as in academia.
It’s already providing products and services to companies around the world, and now Ocean Sonics is hanging out a shingle on the west coast of Canada, establishing a presence on Vancouver Island to serve the marine industry on that coast.
Ken Brough will lead the BC office in North Vancouver as Ocean Sonics’ Pacific Product Specialist.
In a news release Sept. 8, Ocean Sonics said Brough has years of experience working in the Vancouver tech industry. “An avid outdoorsman (he) is familiar with the increase in vessel traffic and ocean industry in the region, as well as the need for responsible exploration and environmental monitoring.
“Brough will be hands-on to support the goals of the region’s users through training, problem-solving and deployment design, and … act as a point person between Ocean Sonics and those looking for accessible ocean sound data,” said the company in its release.
The expansion to BC is an impressive milestone for a company that started around a kitchen table in the small Nova Scotia hamlet of Great Village (population 500).
Just last year the company set up an office in Truro, giving it more space for the design and manufacturing of its digital hydrophones.
Rose Fisher, the company’s Marketing and PR Coordinator, explained the company’s technology has uses in several ocean sectors.
In oil and gas, for instance, underwater acoustics are used to detect leaks in pipelines, or to document the presence of marine life in areas proposed for oil and gas exploration.
More stringent government regulations are creating more demand for acoustic information, and opportunities for companies like Ocean Sonics.
“The Government of Canada is rolling out more regulations year after year so you can expect to see even more need for regulatory compliance using acoustics. It’s no longer sufficient just to use a marine mammal observer to do inspections, you need a more robust environmental plan.”
Acoustics is also a troubleshooting tool.
The hurricane that started it
“You can use acoustics to detect pipeline leaks,” said Fisher.
In fact, the company got its start thanks to a hurricane and a small leak.
When Hurricane Dennis blasted through the Gulf of Mexico in 2005, it left the world’s largest semi-submersible oil platform — BP Thunderhorse — with a leak, causing it to list 20 degrees.
Officials could not determine the source of the leak so they eventually reached out to Great Village and Mark Wood, who was running the small acoustic company, Instrument Concepts — the forerunner of Ocean Sonics Ltd.
Using its hydrophone dubbed “Big Ears” the Nova Scotia company was able to determine the source of the leak, the rig was repaired and righted, and the entrepreneurial Nova Scotian began to realize the large potential for acoustic technology.
Wood and Desiree Stockermanns eventually formed Ocean Sonics Ltd. in 2012.
Their main product, the icListen hydrophone, was developed in those early years.
As they built their client base, and the order sheet kept growing, Ocean Sonics realized it needed more space than the old general store in Great Village offered.
“We were just getting far too large to manufacture the amount of hydrophones that were demanded, from that tiny facility.”
In addition to acoustic hydrophones, the company also builds the battery packs, buoys and other essentials for the hydrophones. They also provide software packages, and data analysis and reports from the acoustic data.
They moved to Truro in April, 2019.
Today the company is working on its newest generation of hydrophones, the icKayak, from its Truro office.
From six employees 10 years ago, the company has grown to 20 and they are currently in hiring mode.
Right now the company is seeking an administrator, lead mechanical engineer and a production manager.
“We are truly a global company,” added Fisher, “with hydrophones deployed in every continent, including Antarctica.”
In addition to serving commercial industries, Ocean Sonics also partners with academia.
COVID-19 has not slowed them down.
In fact, the pandemic has created what Fisher calls “a really bizarre opportunity.”
A huge decrease in vessel traffic this year, she said, means it’s gotten really quiet in the oceans.
“So there’s been this great opportunity for researchers to have this wonderful, quiet ocean to collect sound data without having any of their data masked by vessels.”
The company also works closely with Atlantic Canadian universities, including Memorial University which is using icListen hydrophones in their ocean technology program.
Acoustics also has potential applications beyond the marine environment.
It might also have application in the brewing industry.
“We had some projects that were brought to our attention, using hydrophones in bubble classification in brewing and champagne making.”
Fisher, acknowledging she’s no champagne expert but has been told that the size of the bubbles during the fermenting process impacts the quality of the champagne.
And you just can’t take the cover off the vat during the fermenting process.
“So if you can listen for the much smaller, daintier carbonation, you know that you’re going to have a much better product.”
That’s where acoustic technology can play a role.
Mark Wood is CEO and president of Ocean Sonics Ltd.
In the press release to announce the expansion to BC, Wood said, “Together with our users, we are advancing the interests of ocean science, stewardship and ethical ocean industry,.
“Our goal is to make sound data more accessible. We do that by building excellent tools and supporting those exploring and preserving our oceans through acoustics.”