Whale Aware Program:
Protecting Whales on US West Coast Whales Killed by Ships Along the US West Coast.
As many as 50 large whales are killed in collisions with ships off the California coast each year. Busy shipping lanes pass through food-rich waters along the US West Coast where an increasing number of whales congregate to feed. Shipping traffic to the ports of San Francisco/Oakland, San Diego, Los Angeles/Long Beach, and Seattle bring 6,500 container ships through those waters each year. Changing ocean conditions across the Pacific have exacerbated the problem. In the waters off San Francisco Bay, there are now four times more humpback whales feeding there were eight years ago.
PRBO Conservation Science (PRBO), a non-profit founded in 1965, and based in the San Francisco Bay area and our partner the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Office of National Marine Sanctuaries used data on whale foraging in the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries off San Francisco Bay to recommend modified shipping lane configurations that could reduce the risk of collisions by as much as 70%. We are pleased that the Coast Guard will implement the new shipping lanes in the next two years but more is needed to reduce whale mortality.
A near real-time warning system. With more “real time” data on where whales are congregating, the National Marine Sanctuaries (NMS) and the Coast Guard can alert ships to reduce speed or choose an alternative route. Our Whale Aware Program will develop and deploy the “Spotter” tablet/smartphone application (with “Earth NC”) for use by a wide range of commercial, whale watching and recreational boats to “crowdsource” data on whale observations that the Sanctuaries and Coast Guard can use to manage shipping traffic and minimize potential conflicts with whales. We will launch this program in the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank NMS (San Francisco Bay Area to Bodega Bay), Monterey Bay NMS (Half Moon Bay to Cambria), Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (Long Beach to Ventura), and Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (Seattle and Olympic Peninsula whale watching boats) starting in January 2013.
In April 2013, we will release the “Spotter” application and begin training skippers and naturalists from charter fishing boats, whale watching boats, and recreational and commercial fishers to document whale sightings. We will also conduct a marketing and industry outreach campaign to ensure maximum visibility and participation by target constituencies. We anticipate a total of 200 Whale Aware participants along the entire coast within two years.