For those interested in helping out the whale populations off the coast of North America, there’s an app for that.
Introducing Whale Alert 2.0.
First launched in 2012 as a tool for the shipping industry to keep track of the endangered right whale along the New England coast in order to prevent deadly strikes between ships and whales, which is a major cause of death for some species, the new Whale Alert 2.0, now operational for both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of the U.S. and Canada, gives users access to information on other endangered whale species such as the blue whale and allows civilians to play a role in whale conservation by reporting sightings of live, distressed and dead whales.
“Busy shipping lanes that coincide with whale feeding areas, breeding regions, and migratory routes present an immense ship strike threat to whales,” says Whale Alert. “With the free Whale Alert app, mariners and members of the public are provided with a user-friendly tool directly on their iPad or iPhone that displays whale ‘safety zones’.”
And with only an estimated 500 North Atlantic right whales left, conservationists are counting on Whale Alert users to help track down the remaining whales. Over the last few years, the whales have changed their migration patterns. Where they once migrated in large numbers to the Bay of Fundy between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, sightings there are now rare. Instead, reports are emerging of right whales seen off the coast of Cape Breton and further into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
“It could be part of a regular cycle,” says Sean Brillant, senior conservation officer with the Canadian Wildlife Federation. “The more eyes that are on the ocean, whether they are trained scientists or people in pleasure craft, a sighting of a right whale could be a really valuable find.”
A collaborative effort of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), the Whale Alert app gives a real-time display of the ocean and, based on sightings, provides information about where whales might be, as well as recommended routes for shippers to take to avoid collisions. So as to detract sightseers from using it to track down individual whales, the app more broadly identifies areas where whales have been reported.
IFAW program director Patrick Ramage reports that the app is a big advantage to those in the fishing and shipping industries and that more than 33,000 users have already downloaded the app. “It is literally a situation where the sort of fog of incomplete data or outmoded equipment can be lifted for the mariner,” Ramage said.
Along with the revised whale app, a new set of highly detailed maps have been created to mark the movements and population densities of 35 different species of whales, dolphins and porpoises along the U.S. Eastern Coast. Scientists at Duke University’s Marine Geospatial Ecology Laboratory recently published the maps, available free online, not only to help the shipping and fishing industries develop better management practices but also to inform decisions about offshore energy development.
“Our maps give government agencies and other interested parties better tools to help protect these highly mobile animals and guide future ocean planning, including decisions about the siting of wind energy and oil and gas exploration along our coasts,” says Duke University’s Jason J. Roberts. The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has recently announced a plan to lease large sections of the U.S. Atlantic seabed to oil and gas companies for drilling.