Point Blue Conservation Science and its partners have developed “Whale Aware”, a new system for gathering near “real time” data on where whales are congregating so marine management agencies can alert ship operators and help prevent collisions with endangered whales in the San Francisco and Channel Islands regions. This program will be designed to benefit both whales and the operational needs of shipping companies.
New shipping routes:
Last year, Point Blue assisted federal marine management agencies by providing data which informed the rerouting of shipping lanes off San Francisco Bay, to help divert maritime traffic away from areas where whales often concentrate. These new lane changes went into effect June 2013. The changes to the lanes will help reduce the risk of collisions between ships and whales but more is needed to address the problem. Whales and their food are moving targets rather than fixed points on a map, especially with changing ocean conditions across the Pacific. Whale Aware will gather current data on where the whales are congregating to deliver that information to the National Marine Sanctuaries and the Coast Guard so those agencies can work with shipping companies to meet both commerce and conservation goals.
Real-time information is needed:
In Summer 2013, Point Blue and its partners released the “Spotter Pro” application produced by Conserve.IO and begin training commercial operators, charter fishing boats, whale watching boat naturalists, and recreational and commercial fishers to document whale sightings. This crowd sourced data will be checked and refined by aerial surveys and professional observations from Point Blue biologists on land on the Southeast Farallon Island and at sea on marine surveying ACCESS cruises. Together this data will provide NOAA and the USCG’s Vessel Traffic Service the data they need to recommend that shipping traffic reroute to an alternate traffic lane or, if clear need arises, adjust their speed while whales are feeding in the area. We will deploy this program off the San Francisco Bay Area and also in the Santa Barbara Channel and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. We anticipate a total of 200 Whale Aware participants along the entire coast within two years.