Scientists Launch New Technology In Santa Barbara Channel Intended To Protect Whales Against Ships

Sep 18, 2020

There’s some of the most majestic creatures in the world, and some of the most endangered.  While whales are now receiving many protections from hunters, they have facing another, growing threat:  Serious injuries, or death from accidental ship strikes.  Now, some researchers have developed technology which may help ease the danger.

Morgan Visalli is a scientist with the Benioff Ocean Initiative, based at UC Santa Barbara.  She says one of the hot spots for this issue is right off our coastline.  It’s the international ship traffic which passes through the Santa Barbara Channel headed to, and from the ports of Los Angeles, and Long Beach.

This summer 30 blue whales were spotted feeding in the shipp lanes, which are among the busiest ones in the wold.

There have been projects to give ships financial incentives to slow as they pass through the Santa Barbara Channel, to reduce the chance of whales being hit by ships.  But, the number of ship strikes off the West have skyrocketed during the last two years.

Part of the problem is the skyrocketing growth in ship traffic.

Now, a project spearheaded by the Benioff Initiative in conjunction with more than a half dozen institutions is using technology to try to prevent collisions.  Dr. Briana Abrahms, with the University of Washington, says what’s called “Whale Safe” uses data to warn ships if whales might be in their area.

She says the data gathered from various sources isn't actually tracking the whales, but is like a weather forecast in that it gives a good idea of their potential movement so ships can be warned.  The project also involves researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Texas A & M University at Galveston, UC Santa Cruz, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Southwest Fisheries Science Center.

Researchers say this system is critical, because the problem of collisions involving whales and ships is only expected to get worse.  The growth in global trade means that the amount of shipping moved at sea is predicted to triple in the next decade.

“Whale Safe” is initially being used off our coastline, in the Santa Barbara Channel.  But, researchers hope it will be adopted and used as a warning tool to protect whales around the world