Whither Whale Privacy? Government Tracking Their Golden Gate Bridge Area Trips

Scientists this week are testing out a new app that tracks whale sightings near the Golden Gate Bridge in an effort to prevent the animals from being hit by passing ships.

Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Petaluma-based Point Blue Conservation Science are testing the “Whale Spotter” app to record whale sightings during a weeklong research cruise near the bridge, according to Point Blue spokeswoman Zoe Woodcraft.

Blue and humpback whales feed on krill during yearly visits to the area outside of the Golden Gate Bridge, which is directly in the path of busy shipping lanes.

Scientists believe that coincidence has led to numerous collisions in the area that killed whales.
In 2010, at least four endangered whales were struck and killed by ships in the San Francisco Bay, and this year, several dead whales that washed up on local beaches are believed to have met the same fate, according to Point Blue.

“Each year, over 7,300 large ship transits go through the Golden Gate—a number that continues to increase,” said Dr. Jaime Jahncke, director of Point Blue’s “California Current” research group. “We need a way to gather real-time data about where whales are likely to congregate given how many ships travel near their feeding areas.”

The data would enable wildlife management agencies and the shipping industry to boost maritime safety and prevent whale deaths in the area, he said.

The “Whale Spotter” app was created not only for researchers but also for commercial ship operators, charter fishing boat operators, whale watchers and fishermen to monitor whales in real time.

“It’s a commonsense solution to use technology like the “Whale Spotter” app to help prevent whale strikes,” said Pacific Merchants Shipping Association spokesman John Berge. “No ship captain wants to hit a whale, and we’re hoping to be a part of the process to gather data and help prevent whale strikes.”

Laura Dixon, Bay City News

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