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How Collaborative Technology Is Saving Endangered Whales

Posted On October 1, 2012 by

Credit: NOAA

With a few taps and a swipe of the screen, the iPhone never ceases to amaze me. From forecasting the weather and tracking the arrival of the next bus, to choosing sustainable seafood and forming eco-conscious habits (Ocean Conservancy’s newly launched app Rippl is a must-have!), the amount of accessible and accurate information provided by the small hand-held device seems endless. However, we land-dwellers aren’t the only ones benefiting from hand-held technology – even the North Atlantic Right Whale can reap the benefits from this era of insta-information.

Sparked by an increasing concern over the number of whale deaths within Boston Harbor’s shipping lanes, port authorities, scientists, the shipping industry, and federal agencies have come together over the past five years seeking solutions that support both commerce and marine wildlife.  A suite of tools resulted from this collaboration, designed to help mariners protect North Atlantic Right Whales easily. Simple solutions derived from scientific observation and data collection, including the rerouting of shipping lanes to avoid prime feeding grounds and the recent development of the WhaleAlert app, have caused incredible improvement in whale mortality rates within the harbor.

By compiling existing shipping regulations in one easy-to-use interface, the app serves as a convenient tool sending information directly to a captain’s hands via an iPhone or iPad. Among its impressive capabilities, the app alerts captains with recommended routes to avoid whale collisions, advisories to slow ship speeds – and with real-time data derived from acoustic buoys tracking whale calls beneath the surface of the water.  Couple these tools with GPS and digital maps provided by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, and captains can make the best possible decisions regarding the safety of their ships and marine life by navigating mindfully through Boston’s busy waters.

Streamlining data and utilizing user-friendly platforms are not concepts limited to Boston’s congested shipping lanes, though. Everyday our coastal and ocean waters host a myriad of activities – not limited to marine ecosystems, fishermen, offshore energy development, and shippers – and it makes sense that we acquire as much information as possible to balance all these needs in a way that benefits everyone.

Luckily, the National Ocean Policy supports the tools and resources necessary to accomplish this. Through smart ocean planning, regions can identify and address specific issues prioritized by their individual communities, and strengthen existing programs and efforts through increased coordination and collaboration. Tools such as information-sharing, data portals and interactive maps better inform and guide decision-making on the local level, allowing business to move forward in both a faster manner and with greater insight. With the engagement of all involved, we can more efficiently and effectively preserve our marine resources and support our coastal economies.

And if we can accomplish this through something as simple as the phone in our hands – allowing us to continue our favorite recreational activities along our coastlines, enjoy a plate of barbequed oysters on a Saturday afternoon – and protect our favorite marine life – imagine what we can do when we encourage proactive ocean planning nation-wide.

Our ocean may not be limitless, but the possibilities in future ocean planning are.