The endangered North Atlantic Right Whale swims through a sea of troubles. Each spring, the last 400 of these ancient creatures swim through my backyard just off of Cape Cod. Early settlers to these shores claimed these whales were so plentiful you could walk across the water on their backs. And generations of Yankee whalers deemed this slow-moving, surface-swimming species the "right" whale to hunt.
In recent years, human threats to endangered right whales have increased, and given their fragile population status, the loss of even one of these marine mammals can have a massive impact on the fate of the species. In addition to habitat destruction, marine pollution, entanglement in outmoded fishing gear and deafening underwater noise, one of the most chronic and deadly threats these gentle creatures face is collisions with large commercial vessels moving in and out of Boston Harbor.
Starting April 4th, however, these whales will swim more safely through the waters they have been navigating for millennia, thanks to the newly released "Whale Alert" iPad and iPhone app. The result of a multi-organization effort that brings together government, academia, private sector industries and IFAW, Whale Alert provides mariners and others with one-stop shopping for all right whale management measures using easy-to-use nautical chart-displayed information. The app links the bridge of a ship to the latest data about right whale detections and informs users when their vessels enter right whale management areas.
A key feature of Whale Alert is a display which links a system of 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 link to the listening network is only part of what Whale Alert does. The app also uses Global Positioning System (GPS), Automatic Identification System (AIS), the Web and digital nautical chart technologies to alert mariners to NOAA's right whale conservation measures that are active in their immediate vicinity, allowing them to adjust their path accordingly.
This new technology will not only save mariners time and hassle, it will save right whales lives. The positive implications for marine mammal conservation are huge.
Welcome to 21st century whale conservation, in which the fate and future of these creatures is now literally in our hands.
-Fred O'Regan is President and CEO of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).