NOAA – New technology will enable scientists to forecast patterns of whale traffic in the Pacific

by Sabrina I. Pacifici on April 5, 2013

News release: “The waters off the coast of California are heavily trafficked, not only by ships, but also by those other seagoing behemoths, the great whales. Blue, fin, humpback and gray whales all migrate up and down the West Coast. When whales and ships come into contact, however, the results can be fatal. Ship strikes are a significant cause of mortality for these species, all of which, other than the gray whale, are currently listed as endangered. If ships knew when whales were in the area then they could steer clear or temporarily slow down. But whales spend most of their time hidden beneath the waves. By the time a ship’s captain spots a whale, it’s often already too late. But a team of scientists from NOAA, Oregon State University, and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science are working on a solution. It’s called WhaleWatch, and it’s the result of decades of work. Bruce Mate of OSU has been tracking whales using satellite tags for more than twenty years. All the while, ocean observing satellites have been recording physical conditions on the ocean. By overlaying the tracking data atop maps showing ocean conditions, the researchers are deciphering the combination of conditions most likely to attract whales. Hopefully, they will soon be able to issue whale advisories based on data as it streams in from the satellites.”

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