| BOSTON, April 4
BOSTON, April 4 Efforts to protect the North
Atlantic right whale have gone high-tech with the creation of an
iPad/iPhone application that can warn mariners when they
approach an area where the highly endangered mammals are
The Whale Alert app, available for free download, uses
global positioning system and other technology to send the
latest data about right whale detections, overlaid on National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) digital charts, to
the user's device.
The project is a joint effort between NOAA and other
government agencies, including the National Park Service and the
Coast Guard, universities, and conservation groups.
The system hopes to limit the number of deadly collisions
between whales and vessels, especially large vessels such as
cruise ships and container ships. When whales are detected in an
area, ships can alter course slightly or slow down.
Marine authorities estimate there are only 350 to 550 of the
massive mammals left in the world.
"Right whales are an iconic species for those who live on
the coast of Massachusetts and the Northeast U.S.," said Patrick
Ramage, director at the International Fund for Animal Welfare in
Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts.
The U.S. commercial whaling industry was centered in New
England for hundreds of years before it was wound down in the
early 20th Century.
"In a region where for generations New Englanders have
harnessed technology to find whales and kill them, now in the
21st century we are harnessing technology to find them and save
them," Ramage said.
North Atlantic right whales live along the coast of North
America from Newfoundland to Florida.
The creatures, which have a normal lifespan of 50 to 70
years and can weigh around 70 tons, are vulnerable to getting
struck by ships because they live in near-shore waters, feed
close to the surface, and are notoriously slow swimmers.
Collisions with vessels killed more than one third of the
right whales which were reported dead between 1970 and 2007.
Given the fragility of the population, the loss of even one
whale - especially a breeding-age female - can have a
significant impact on the species.
In major shipping lanes to and from Boston, whale detection
will be aided by real-time acoustic detection buoys that
essentially listen for whale activity.
"The whales are calling each other. We are eavesdropping
into the social network of right whales living off the coast of
Massachusetts," said Christopher Clark, director of the
bioacoustics research program at Cornell University.
The app was developed for Apple's iPads and iPhones
by EarthNC, which specializes in spatial mapping systems for the
leisure boating community, and Gaia GPS, which designs
backcountry topographic maps.