Whale populations have recovered dramatically since the age of international whaling, but those that migrate near shipping lanes are still often struck and killed. Meanwhile, sailors — especially those who transit coastal areas — are often concerned about colliding with cetaceans, for their own sake as well as for that of the whales.
In 2012, NOAA offered a free iPhone and iPad app to help East Coast mariners avoid whales and participate in data collection. The app utilizes GPS, AIS, Internet and NOAA nautical charts to provide mariners with a single source of information about whale locations and conservation measures that are active in their immediate vicinity.
The app has been recently updated for West Coast mariners in their effort to save whales and protect themselves from potentially dangerous strikes.
Ship strikes by whales on the Pacific Coast are a serious concern. Slow-moving whales are highly vulnerable to ship strikes, since many of their feeding and migration areas overlap with shipping lanes.
In 2007, four whales were killed near the Santa Barbara Channel. Further north along the California coast near San Francisco, five whales were killed in 2010.
“Whales are important both ecologically and economically, but they continue to face a variety of threats including ship strikes,” said Michael Carver, deputy superintendent of Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary. “Whale Alert allows citizens to provide data scientists can use to inform management and better protect whale populations.”
Whale Alert has been developed by a collaboration of government agencies, academic institutions, non-profit conservation groups and private sector industries, led by NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. Collaborating organizations include Bioacoustics Research Program at Cornell University, Cape Cod National Seashore, Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping at the University of New Hampshire, Conserve I.O., Excelerate Energy, EOM Offshore, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Massachusetts Port Authority, NOAA Fisheries, National Park Service, Point Blue Conservation Science, U.S. Coast Guard and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, as well as shipping industry representatives.
The app is available for free download through Apple’s App Store. More information can be found at www.whalealert.org.