Whale protection network expanding beyond Bay Area to East Coast and Canada after 2 years

BySpencer Christian and Tim Didion KGO logo
Friday, April 12, 2024
Whale protection network now expanding beyond Bay Area after 2 years
An ocean-going system, which is protecting whales here in the Bay Area, is expanding to the East Coast and Canada.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- An ocean-going system, which is protecting whales here in the Bay Area, is expanding to the East Coast and Canada.

Doug McCauley directs the Benioff Ocean Science Laboratory at UC Santa Barbara. Two years ago, the Benioff group teamed with the Marine Mammal Center in Marin County to install a system of acoustic buoys off our coast. The system can detect migrating whales, warning ships in the area to slow down to avoid deadly collisions.

"So on the West Coast, what we do is we couple that vessel analytics, surveying and tracking how vessels are paying attention to the slow speed zones that the government puts out for whale safety, as well as also tracking the whales. So we have a set of different technologies that interlace," McCauley said.

MORE: Shipping companies recognized for helping protect migrating whales along NorCal coast

He explains that the Whale Safe System also relies on satellites and massive databases to track the movement of ship. And on the East Coast, the information could be critical for an endangered species known as the North Atlantic right whale, whose population has now dwindled down to the hundreds.

"They're already sitting on the edge, this precipice of extinction at that gets scary, and that's where tools like this that come through and we hope will help make a difference for their survival," McCauley said.

Similar data also drives a voluntary vessel speed reduction program that's benefitting the Bay Area environment in several ways. Jessica Morten is with NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. She says over the last year, their effort, known as "Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies," not only cut the risk of ship collisions, but also the amount of dangerous air pollution.

"And we end up seeing tens of thousands of metric tons of regional greenhouse gas reductions when they slow down to these target speeds of 10 knots or less," she said.

MORE: Scientists hope warning system along NorCal coast will protect whales from ship strikes

Nearly three dozen major shipping companies now participate in the voluntary program. And researchers are hoping that similar cooperation will ultimately help protect threatened whale populations worldwide.

"Nobody wants to run over whales and none of these companies do. So, they generally also are looking for that information, so they can help become part of the solution," McCauley said.

When The Blue whales and Blue Skies program started, it offered financial incentives to shipping companies. But NOAA says the shippers are now reducing speed voluntarily in sensitive areas without being compensated.

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