US scientists are set to test the beta version of the newly developed ‘Whale Spotter’ app that is designed to track whales near the San Francisco Bay and prevent them from being struck by ships.
The testing will be conducted over a week-long research cruise and scientists from Point Blue Conservation Science (Point Blue), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Cordell Bank and Gulf of Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries will record whale sightings with the app.
The scientists will also monitor seabirds, fish, and the marine food web.
In 2010, at least four whales were documented to have been struck by ships and in 2013 several dead whales washed up on Bay Area beaches, both from confirmed and suspected ship strikes.
Developed by Conserve.IO, the app is intended for use by researchers, commercial ship operators, charter fishing boat operators, whale watching naturalists, and recreational and commercial fishers to document whale sightings in real-time.
The crowdsourced data will be evaluated and optimised by aerial surveys and observations from Point Blue biologists on land at the Southeast Farallon Island and by other biologists on marine surveying cruises.
The data will enable NOAA and the US Coast Guard’s Vessel Traffic Service to provide recommendations such as the reduction of vessel speed or rerouting of shipping traffic to an alternate lane if whales are feeding in the lane.
Point Blue’s California Current Research Group director Dr Jaime Jahncke said that each year over 7,300 large ship transits go through the Golden Gate, a number that continues to increase.
"We need a way to gather real-time data about where whales are likely to congregate given how many ships travel near their feeding areas," Jahncke said. "This will in turn better inform decisions by wildlife management agencies and the shipping industry."
Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary superintendent Dan Howard said having data on whale movement is key to working with the shipping industry and making informed management decisions.
"We’re looking forward to seeing the results of this app and working collaboratively with the US Coast Guard and the shipping industry to help prevent whale strikes," Howard added.
In June 2013 the US Coast Guard used the information provided by Point Blue scientists to configure and change shipping lanes in the San Francisco Bay area to prevent whales being stuck by ships.
The new shipping lanes feature three narrowed and extended points that keep ship traffic confined to a small area not in the path of whales.