New App Helps Prevent Ships from Colliding with Whales

Thanks to a new app mariners can now be warned when entering areas where the North Atlantic right whale is known to frequent.This innovative app, created for the iPad and iPhone, can help prevent ships from striking and killing the North Atlantic right whale, whose species number anywhere from a meager 300 to 400 individual whales.

Right whales are large baleen whales that can grow up to 45 to 55 feet in length and weigh up to 70 tons! Since the late 18th century, the right whale has been hunted to near extinction and is listed as endangered by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The whales were sought after in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries for their oil and baleen, which were used in the making of buggy whips and corsets. Nowadays, entanglement in fishing gear and ship collisions are the biggest threats to right whales. Ships have a hard time seeing the whales, which feed on plankton slicks near the surface of the water. Furthermore, the right whale is often unaware of its surroundings when feeding, creating even more risk of being struck and killed by ships. According to researcher Greg Silber of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, since the 1970s, an average of two North Atlantic right whales are killed annually by ship strikes. Other risks right whales face include climatechange, contaminants, habitat degradation, and noise pollution.

Due to the heavy loss North Atlantic right whales have suffered from hunting, entanglement in fishing gear, and ship collisions, measures and regulations were created in the  mid-2000s to help protect the right whale population. These included mandatory vessel speed restrictions in management areas, recommended shipping routes, and mandatory ship reporting systems, to name a few. Whale alerts were also created to help notify mariners of whale restrictions. Before this new app was created, ships received the notifications via fax machines and VHF transmitters, but if ships did not have the right technology, mariners would fail to receive the alerts. However, with the creation of this new app, mariners who own an iphone or ipad are notified when they enter areas with right whale restrictions. Furthermore, mariners can learn specific regulations by simply clicking on the app. In order to obtain the app, vessels must have either an iPad or iPhone, which can run anywhere from $200 to $400. The vessel must also come equipped with broadband service. However, iPads and iPhones are fairly inexpensive technology to have considering the app’s many benefits for ships.

Currently, the app works by locating the whales’ real-time location using data gathered from special acoustic buoys. The acoustic buoys are able to detect the right whales’ location within a 5 mile radius by picking up on their unique songs. For now, the app only works in New England because that is where the 13 acoustic buoys are located. Nevertheless, this new app may pave the way for future technological advances in protecting marine wildlife. However, for this app to make a difference, the maritime community needs to be aware of its existence. Awareness is key. To learn more about right whales and to see what you can do to help, please visit http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/endangered_species/cetaceans/about/right_whales/north_atlantic_right_whale/.

Photo credit: thewhizzer.blogspot.com/2008_01_01_archive.html

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