Back in the 1970s, a lot of cars sported “Save the Whales” bumper stickers. More than 2 million whales were caught by commercial whalers in the 20th century, and by the middle of the century, many populations were severely depleted. The “Save the Whales” campaign brought millions of people together, resulting in a near-worldwide ban on commercial whaling in 1986. Today, many fewer whales are being taken, but there are still many threats to their survival, including commercial marine traffic.
Big ships run into whales. Inadvertently, of course, but because today’s shipping lanes overlap with whale feeding and migration areas, whales (many of them endangered species) are at great risk of being injured or killed. Obviously, the best way to save the whales is to avoid running into them—and commercial ships now have some free tools that make that possible.
There’s an app for that.
For the past two years, mariners along the U.S. East Coast have been able to download a free iPad and iPhone app that warns them when they enter areas with a high risk of collision with critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. Whale Alert provides a central source for information about how to navigate around right whales in specific areas, along with the latest data about their whereabouts, all overlaid on NOAA digital charts.
The app was developed by a group of government agencies, academic institutions, non-profit conservation groups, and private sector industries, led by scientists at NOAA’s Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.
Right whales themselves assist in the tracking process: a key feature of Whale Alert is a display linking near real-time acoustic buoys that listen for right whale calls to an iPad or iPhone on a ship’s bridge, showing the whales’ presence to captains transiting the shipping lanes in and around the Stellwagen Sanctuary, at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay.
Whale Alert West Coast
Whale Alert has just been updated with a Pacific coast version, which includes regional information and a number of new features, including crowdsourcing whale sightings in the Pacific. The whale-watching public can use the app to report Pacific whale sightings to databases that NOAA and whale biologists use to map whale habitats and migration patterns.
Check out the data for yourself
Whale Alert data collected by scientists and the public are currently available online at the Whale Alert – West Coast website. “More is usually better when it comes to data,” said Jaime Jahncke, Point Blue Conservation Science lead on the project. “Whale Alert allows us to crowd-source data collection, so that as scientists we have more information available to help protect whales from ships.”
The free Whale Alert app can be downloaded from Apple’s App Store. You can find more information on Whale Alert and the groups responsible for its development at www.whalealert.org.