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'Whale Spotter' app to reduce ship strikes

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Published on Nov 4, 2013

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Marine biologists have begun testing a smartphone application "Whale Spotter" that would allow boaters and conservationists to to collect data about the movement of whales outside San Francisco Bay so ships can avoid striking the endangered mammals.

Trained observers with an interest in whales will use the application to report their whale sightings, along with the animals' behaviors, to a global database.

The crowdsourced data will be checked and refined by aerial surveys and observations from biologists at sea on marine surveying cruises. Biologists will use information from the app to map the whales' locations.

The data will then provide the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the US Coast Guard's Vessel Traffic Service with the information they need to recommend that shipping traffic reroute to an alternate traffic lane if whales are feeding in the lane or reduce vessel speed.

Large vessels struck whales at least 100 times in California between 1988 and 2012, said Monica DeAngelis, a National Marine Fisheries Service marine mammal biologist.

The California coast has the largest population of blue whales in the world. However, blue whales have not risen in number. Researchers fear ship strikes from more traffic through the Golden Gate may be the reason.

The idea behind the app is to create a network of whale spotters off California's coast so the marine mammals can be tracked, in real time, as they migrate.

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