New technology developed in Bay Area to keep whales safer; here's how it works

ByMike Nicco and Tim Didion KGO logo
Friday, September 23, 2022
New technology keeps whales safer in Bay Area; here's how it works
Local agencies have developed a new 'Whale Safe' technology in the Bay Area to keep whales safer. This is how it works.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Agencies including NOAA, the Gulf of the Farallones, Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, and the Marine Mammal Center have been keeping a close watch on a deadly pattern, collisions between whales and large ocean-going vessels

But now, a new system is being deployed to protect whales transiting the coast and Bay Area Waters. It's known as Whale Safe. The buoy-based technology was developed by partnerships, including with the Benioff Ocean Science Lab and UC Santa Cruz.

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"So today's announcement of the new Benioff-funded buoys that will help us reach our goal, will help us achieve this recommendation that have been given to us by our advisors, and improve our understanding of the distribution and abundance of whales in these waters of San Francisco, filling this important evidence gap," said Maria Brown, director of the Gulf of the Farallones, Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

Developers say artificial intelligence helps enable an acoustic monitoring technology deployed by Whale Safe. The system couples that sound data with whale habitat models and recorded whale sightings. The result is a kind of crossing guard system for whales, where the agencies, shipping companies, researchers and even the public can monitor vessel speeds and whale interactions in coastal waters.

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"So having a complete understanding about the presence of whales year-round will give notice to greater pheromones and Cordell Bank sanctuaries the data we need to further reduce ship strikes to whales," Brown said.

They hope the Whale Safe system will help cut down on the kind of collisions that kill an estimated 80 endangered whales off the West Coast every year-- and perhaps give them a voice in keeping our waters safer. The team says the data will also be used by the Benioff Ocean Science Lab and The Marine Mammal Center to help develop additional safety measures for the future.

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