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New iPad, iPhone app helps mariners avoid endangered right whales

Mariners along the U.S. east coast can now download a new iPad and iPhone application that warns them when they enter areas of high risk of collision with critically endangered North Atlantic right whales.

Using nautical chart information on the iPhone or iPad, the free Whale Alert app alerts mariners when their vessels enter right whale management areas, and provides the latest data about right whale detections.

"Whale Alert represents an innovative collaboration to protect this critically endangered species," said David Wiley, NOAA's Stellwagen Bank sanctuary research coordinator and project lead. "Whale conservation is greater than any one organization and this project shows how many organizations can unite for a good cause."

A key feature of Whale Alert is a display linking near real-time acoustic buoys that listen for right whale calls to an iPad or iPhone on a ship's bridge showing the whale's presence to captains transiting the shipping lanes in and around Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. "The idea that right whales are directly contributing to conservation through their own calls is pretty exciting," said Christopher Clark, whose team at the Bioacoustics Research Program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology helped develop the acoustic detection and warning system.

North Atlantic right whales, which live along North America's east coast from Nova Scotia to Florida, are one of the world's rarest large animals and a species on the brink of extinction. Recent estimates put the population of North Atlantic right whales at approximately 300 to 450 animals. Collision with ships is a leading cause of right whale death.

"In addition to increasing the chances of right whale survival, Whale Alert also decreases the risk of mariners being fined for violating regulations," said Deborah Hadden, deputy port director for the Massachusetts Port Authority. "The shipping industry does not want to strike whales. Whale Alert is the combination of science and technology that we have been looking for to help resolve this issue."

The link to the listening network is only part of what Whale Alert does. The app uses GPS, Automatic Identification System, Internet and digital nautical chart technologies to alert mariners to NOAA's right whale conservation measures that are active in their immediate vicinity. NOAA, through its NOAA Fisheries Service, is the U.S. agency with responsibility for protecting and recovering this endangered species.

"Why do right whales need their own app? There needs to be dramatic progress in conservation if the species is to survive. Whale Alert is a giant step in the right direction," said Patrick Ramage, global whale director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare and one of the collaborators on Whale Alert. "Given the fragility of the right whale population, the loss of even one whale reduces its chances of long-term survival."

"The app also moves whale conservation into the 21st century," said Brad Winney of EarthNC, an application development business. "Whale Alert highlights the powerful role today's web and mobile based technologies can have in the preservation efforts of endangered species worldwide."

Whale Alert has been developed by a collaboration of government agencies, academic institutions, non-profit conservation groups and private sector industries, led by scientists at NOAA's Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Collaborating organizations include the sanctuary, Bioacoustics Research Program at Cornell University, Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping at the University of New Hampshire, EarthNC, Excelerate Energy, EOM Offshore, Gaia GPS, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Massachusetts Port Authority, NOAA Fisheries Service, National Park Service, Cape Cod National Seashore, United States Coast Guard and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.


Contact: Ben Sherman
NOAA Headquarters

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