Whale Report Alert System (WRAS): Frequently Asked Questions

How does the WhaleReport Alert System work?

The WhaleReport Alert System (WRAS) uses large whale sightings reported in real-time via Ocean Wise’s WhaleReport app to alert verified marine professionals of the presence of nearby whales. The goal of the WRAS is to enable mariners to take mitigation measures (e.g. slowing down, changing course) to help reduce acoustic and physical disturbance to vulnerable cetacean (whale, dolphin and porpoise) species. 

By reporting a sighting as soon as you see a whale, the alert system is initiated: sightings reported in real-time are automatically checked for certain criteria including the species reported and ID certainty. Once your real-time report is submitted, a WRAS alert will be generated almost immediately (less than 5 minutes). Any marine professional equipped with the WRAS who passes within 10 nautical miles (~18.5 km or 11.5 miles) of the sighting location will receive a text message alert notifying them of the location of the sighting, the species, group size, and direction of travel to inform their decision-making when piloting their vessel. 

Who can have access to the WhaleReport Alert System?

Access to the WRAS is restricted to commercial mariners aboard large shipping vessels, marine mammal observers working on marine construction projects, government agencies tasked with enforcing boater regulations, and First Nations groups monitoring their territorial waters. If you fall into one of these categories and would like to access the WRAS, please email [email protected]. Ocean Wise does not grant access to the WRAS to the general public, nor publicize real-time whale locations, to reduce potential disturbance to at-risk cetaceans.

Where does the WhaleReport Alert System work?

The WhaleReport Alert System is currently active in the waters of British Columbia, Washington State, and south-eastern Alaska. If you are located outside of this area and are interested in learning how the WRAS can be implemented in your local waters, please email [email protected] 

I don't use apps - can I report another way?

Yes! You can report sightings on the web through our website. The web version also works on mobile phone browsers if you prefer not to download the WhaleReport app onto your phone. 

If you are unable to report using WhaleReport, cetaceans sighted in British Columbia can also be reported to the Canadian Coast Guard’s Marine Mammal Desk by calling 1-833-339-1020. The Marine Mammal Desk is staffed 24/7 by trained officers who are equipped with WhaleReport to report sightings in real-time to ensure alerts are sent to ship captains. 

I spend much of my time on the water in areas without cell connectivity - can I still report my sightings?

Yes! You can fill out your reports and submit your sightings when you arrive back in cell service. Remember to ensure you report the location of the sighting is where you saw the whales and not your current location. 

Is there a delay in sending alerts to ships after I reported a sighting?

No – the WRAS has been designed to eliminate delays in getting crucial whale location information to professional mariners on the water. The automatic verification process takes a matter of seconds so that alerts can be sent as soon as possible. 

Do all sighting reports send alerts to ships?

No – there are four factors that determine whether a WRAS alert is sent:

  1. Timing – Sightings must be reported in real-time to be eligible to generate an alert. This ensures that professional mariners are receiving the most current whale locations to factor into their decision-making when piloting a vessel. 
  2. Species ID confidence – Only sightings reported with high confidence in species identification (“Certain” or “probable”) will generate WRAS alerts. If you are sure you saw a whale, but are uncertain of the species, there is an “unidentified whale” category in WhaleReport that can be reported with high species !D confidence to ensure a WRAS alert will be generated. 
  3.  Species – The biological characteristics and behaviour of large whale species mean that they are most vulnerable to ship strike and disturbance due to large commercial vessels. Sightings of baleen whales (including humpback whales, fin whales, blue whales, Minke whales, and grey whales) and killer whales that meet all other criteria will generate alerts. Other rare large whale species (e.g. beaked whales, north Pacific right whales) or whales that can’t be identified to species will also generate alerts.

    Small cetaceans (e.g. harbour porpoise, pacific white-sided dolphins) will not generate WRAS alerts, but these sightings are still valuable for conservation-based research concerning these species!

  4. Mariners nearby – Not all sightings that meet the above criteria are received by mariners as an alert – a WRAS-enabled vessel must pass within 10 nautical miles of the sighting location for an alert to be sent.

Does the WRAS use hydrophones or other cetacean detection methods to send alerts?

Currently, only sightings reported via WhaleReport can send WRAS alerts, but the system has been set up to incorporate acoustic, infrared, or other detection methods as technology continues to evolve!

Does WhaleReport show me other sighting reports so I can know when there are whales in my area?

No, WhaleReport is a tool for reporting your own sightings and is not equipped to show locations of sightings reported by other observers. There are where this information can be shared within the wildlife enthusiast community.

Does the WhaleReport Alert System broadcast user information to other vessels?

No, the WRAS only accesses user information for the purposes of generating alerts. WRAS users are not able to access the location of other vessels using the app.