Sunday, January 6, 2013

Whale Alert - Ship Strike Reduction of Right Whales

Application: iPad, iPhone
Function: Whale Traffic Avoidance
Cost: Free
Rating: ****

The ocean is a big place but you might be surprised at the amount of ocean going traffic of big commercial ships, ferry boats, cruise ships and pleasure boats in some areas.  One thing we have to be mindful of is that we are not alone at sea. We share this marvelous eco-system with the ocean's creatures, in particular Whales.

The Northern Right Whale is the most endangered of the large whale species. It is thought that only several hundred are still in existence. There are several species of the right whale and all are identified by large heads which can make up to one-third of their total body length. The northern right whales lives in temperate Atlantic or Pacific waters, often near the coast.  Many live and migrate along the eastern Atlantic coast of the United States.  To keep this leviathan safe and multiplying, an effort was started to help preserve this species.

The Whale Alert app uses a cutting edge real time detection systems located on buoys to sense the vocal calls of right whales. This app notifies mariners of whale traffic and to use the Traffic Separation Scheme in the shipping lanes leading through the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and to and from Boston Harbor.

  • NOAA Charts
  • Whale Alerts
  • Right Whale listening buoys
  • Dynamic Management areas
  • Areas to be avoided
  • AIS or Internet connection
  • Seasonal Management Areas
  • Mandatory Ship Reporting Areas
  • Event log
Anyone with an AIS receiver can receive these alerts.  The transmitted AIS message can also be displayed by the app. The app will then change the color of the buoy where the call was recorded to Yellow alerting you to whale traffic in that area.  Ship operators should then slow down to 10 knots and watch for right whale traffic in that area.  The buoy will remain in the Yellow alert status for 24 hours if there are no other confirmed detections. NOAA Whale Alert site has more information on the right whale and more details about the Ship Avoidance program.

How the system works:
The whale warning system is a collaboration between the Cornell University, USCG and NOAA. Special sound detecting buoys have been placed in known whale breeding grounds to listen for the whale calls. The app shows areas in green in the Whale Alert app on the main chart. This indicates that right whale calls have been received within a five-mile radius of this area. 

The calls are recorded and then passed via satellite to Cornell University’s Bio-acoustics Research gurus. These guys then verify that it is indeed a right whale call. 

The technicians can then trigger a message that is transmitted over the Automatic Identification System (AIS) to warn mariners. 

The Whale Alert app has four soft keys in the upper right side of the screen that are used to access the other screens and settings.

The top GPS Location button will center the map on your current GPS location. This will lock your vessel to the center of the map.  The map will then follow your vessel.  To stop following, press the button again.  Manually panning over the chart  will also stop the follow vessel feature.

The next button is the small italics Info button. Click this to view all the rules and regulations pertaining to the area. 

Vessels using the deep water natural gas ports are required to slow to 10knots to reduce the possibility of striking the right whales.

Seasonal management areas have been defined and also require vessels greater than 65 ft slow to 10 knots.

Commercial ship of 300 gross tons are required by the rules to report in when approaching these areas. There are also specific areas that ships must avoid.

The Home button will take you back to the default view of  Massachusetts Bay near Boston.  This is the only location where the right whale buoy AIS data is available.

The Wrench button is where you can adjust the setting for the app.  Settings include the ability to turn sound alarms on and off. 

The app has the ability to switch between getting the alarm notifications from your on board AIS system or from the Internet.  Contrast settings can also be changed to red or black for night time viewing.

So if your sailing in the Boston area you may want to have this app handy.  It would be cool to  see where the whales are and maybe catch a glipse of one. 

This is just another way that technology has been used to preserve an endangered species.  We all like to be good stewards of our environment.  Who would have thought by using an app we could save the world!  Well, at least a little part of it.

~~~Sail On~~~ /)

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