The WhaleReport Alert SystemWRAS
The WhaleReport Alert System (WRAS)
In September 2018, the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network will launch an alert system that will broadcase pertinent details of whale presence to large commercial vessels. Information on whale presence is obtained from real-time observations reported to the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network via the WhaleReport app. These alerts will inform shipmasters and pilots of cetacean occurrence in their vicinity. This awareness will better enable vessels to undertake adaptive mitigation measures, such as slowing down or altering course in the presence of cetaceans, to reduce the risk of collision and disturbance.
Ships and Whales
There is an urgent need to protect British Columbia’s vulnerable cetacean (whale, dolphin, and porpoise) populations. Impacted by anthropogenic threats, including ship strikes, vessel noise, disturbance, reduced prey availability, and pollution, 12 of the 27 species of cetaceans found in B.C. are currently listed as “At Risk” under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. The importance of reducing vessel-associated impacts is highlighted in the SARA Recovery Strategies and Management Plans for all 12 of these listed species.
Studies have demonstrated that the probability of striking cetaceans increases with ship speed. Ships traveling below 10 knots have a low risk of striking and fatally injuring a cetacean, whereas travelling at greater than 17.5 knots greatly increases that risk. Reducing speed in areas commonly used by cetaceans allows more time for the animal to avoid the oncoming vessel and/or the vessel to adjust its course. For example, speed restrictions in the eastern U.S. that require vessels greater than 65 meters in length to travel at speeds of 10 knots or less in areas frequented by endangered North Atlantic right whales have decreased strike-related mortality of this species by 80-90%.
Cetacean populations are also vulnerable to general disturbance by vessels. Large and small vessels may disturb and alter activities essential to cetacean survival, such as foraging, diving, resting, avoiding predators, communicating, socializing, mating and nursing calves. Interrupting these activities negatively affects individuals. In small populations (e.g. southern resident killer whales), these impacts on individuals can have population-level effects. To reduce disturbance, vessels should keep a distance of at least 100 meters; greater distances are even more beneficial.
Vessel noise can increase a whale’s stress level, cause it to move away from or avoid entering an area, and mask crucial echolocation and vocalizations. Vessel noise can generally be decreased by operating below cavitation inception speed and avoiding rapid acceleration, as well as rerouting when in the immediate vicinity of cetaceans and known sensitive marine areas.
If you belong to a professional marine organization, please contact the WRAS Project Manager at WRAS@ocean.org to gain access to the WhaleReport Alert System.
*please note that WRAS will not be available for public download, and is a private application intended for pilots, shipmasters, and operations centre staff.
Members of the Public
We owe a solid measure of the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network’s success to the reliable reporting of our dedicated observers. We need the public’s help to propel the WhaleReport Alert System to success. Without regular, real-time sightings reported via our WhaleReport smartphone application, the WRAS cannot function effectively. If you would like to help, please report your sightings using WhaleReport to help us protect and conserve our vulnerable cetacean populations!
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