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Why We Love Whale Alert

a body of water

Conservation technology has come a long way since the days of simply veering out of the way of marine life at the ocean’s surface. The advent of smartphones has made it practical and affordable to implement conservation plans on a broad scale. Today, it is possible to tell informed mariners and citizens about wildlife hazard areas instantaneously, no matter where in the seas they find themselves.

What Is Whale Alert?

Whale alert is an application available to both Apple iOS and Android users. Once downloaded, Whale Alert informs users when they are in areas of elevated collision risk. The app also provides weather and tide data that can help mariners maintain the situational awareness needed to effectively avoid wildlife collisions.

Whale Alert features several types of designated areas, each with its own implications for travel speed. These are:

California Alert Zones

The state of California has taken impressive measures to map and zone protected wildlife areas on its coasts. When a ship enters a protected area app users are automatically provided relevant maritime regulations.

Boston Alert Zones

Boston’s Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary contains a unique array of acoustic detection buoys that can accurately triangulate whale vocalizations. In these waters, the app provides users with precise animal-location updates.

Seasonal Management Areas

Seasonal areas are spaces designated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to contain a large number of migratory whales. These regions are regulated because rapid travel through them is far likelier than usual to result in a ship collision or injured animal. Ships greater than 65 feet should travel through SMAs at less than or equal to ten knots. 

Dynamic Management Areas 

Dynamic areas are places that may sporadically be designated as high risk for collision. The Whale Alert application notifies users promptly whenever they enter an area that is currently under temporary management.

Voluntary Areas To Be Avoided 

As the name suggests, voluntary areas are not restricted to conserve marine species. Studies, however, have demonstrated that avoiding such areas can help to preserve marine wildlife in their critical habitats. Because ships larger than 300 tons are especially likely to cause fatal injuries, large ships are especially encouraged to avoid ATBAs. 

Recommended Routes

While restricted areas help to prevent injurious incidents, they can unduly frustrate ship captains navigating difficult waters. In some cases, this may prove counterproductive and reduce compliance. Recommended routes provided by the NOAA provide helpful and positive assistance for traveling through highly populated waters.

Other App Features

Some vessels must report to NOAA anytime they enter a protected area. Whale alert manages this automatically, making compliance simple and transparent. Because environmental effects such as storms and swells can make it harder to avoid wildlife areas, the app can provide real-time weather alerts.

History of Whale Alert

The development of Whale Alert was a monumental collaborative effort. The app was born in 2012 when members of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary realized the potential of technology for addressing the problem of ship-whale collisions. In the following years, the original members began working with The North Atlantic Right Whale Sighting Survey, an aquarium-funded research effort, Conserve.IO, a conservation app producer, and Point Blue Conservation Science, a non-profit organization.

While far from the first effort to do so, Whale Alert harnesses the power of “citizen science,” or data aggregated by non-scientists to develop an active database of marine reserves. Citizen science was originally developed to study migratory birds but has since been used across the world in conservation projects focusing on plants, carnivores, illicit poaching, insects, and many other subjects. Since citizen science is only limited by the participation of its users, Whale Alert stands to benefit from continuous improvements over the coming years

Why Ships Should Use The Whale Alert App

Many fatal ship strikes go unnoticed or unreported, leaving environmental organizations guessing as to their true impacts. For this reason, it is difficult to say exactly how close some cetacean species have come to extinction.

Because its range crosses some of the busiest shipping lanes in the U.S., the North Atlantic right whale is perhaps the species most seriously threatened by craft collisions. Right whales are already in danger of extinction, and many researchers have speculated that physical impacts may be enough to push the species into even more serious peril.

Right whales, however, are far from the only whales at risk of extreme population decline. Mediterranean fin whales have found themselves in Europe and Africa’s most traversed waters and face serious decline. Other species risk more haphazard encounters. As virtually no place on earth is forbidden to human sea goers, every marine mammal on earth must occasionally contend with the threat of human encroachment.

Though it isn’t mandatory to use any phone application in the United States or Canada, using Whale Alert has moral, environmental, and financial benefits. Complying with conservation regulations feels good on its own, but avoiding fines and sanctions imposed by regulatory agencies provides another kind of incentive.

Whale & Ship Strike Statistics

Although large shipping vessels are often blamed for causing deaths, all ships large enough to house a crew and motor can cause serious harm to marine species. 

One study published in Conservation Biology found that, when vessels were asked to avoid sanctuary areas, approximately 82 percent fewer animals died than were previously reported. When asked to voluntarily avoid areas of extreme danger to wildlife, about 71 percent of vessel operators agreed to reroute to low-risk waters. 

Given the prevalence of human-caused whale mortality, the future of the ocean’s gentle giants may depend on proactive efforts like Whale Alert that allow concerned vessel operators to do their part for conservation. Fortunately, citizen science applications can be inexpensively scaled to cover massive tracts of nautical territory. If you want to help with whale conservation, be sure to give to benevolent organizations like whale watch services or local sanctuaries. If you’re a vessel operator, try Whale Alert.