Preventing Whale Strikes off the East Coast
Posted by David Balcom | Maryland, United States
In recent years, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES), working with Oregon State University and NOAA, has worked to design and implement a west coast forecasting instrument to alert managers, ship captains and other stakeholders about the presence of whales. WhaleWatch was the first system of its kind to provide near real-time monthly maps of predicted whale occurrence and densities (http://www.westcoast.fisheries.noaa.gov/whalewatch/).
With the growing presence of whales and more intensive shipping in the Ports of Baltimore, Norfolk and Philadelphia, the UM Center for Environmental Science is now turning our attention to avoiding whale strikes off the East Coast. Dr. Helen Bailey, Associate Research Professor at UMCES’ Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, plans to develop a whale alert system off of the Maryland coast using a real-time whale acoustic detection system. This would be used to alert mariners to whales in the area. This plan is similar to the system used in Massachusetts Bay (http://www.listenforwhales.org). There was an unusual mortality of humpback whales this year with 10 confirmed ship strikes, with many stranded whales off the Maryland and Virginia coastline. The critically endangered right whale is also further threatened by ship strikes (see http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/shipstrike/).
Dr. Bailey has had extensive experience studying and protecting whales and other marine animals in Scotland and off Maryland where offshore wind farms have been proposed. While these wind farms are an important new source of low-carbon energy, the construction of wind farms can cause noise disturbance to whales and other species. The additional ship traffic associated with the wind farms may also increase the risk of whales colliding with ships.
We would welcome an opportunity to submit a formal proposal to the Benioff Ocean Initiative during your next round of funding to help prevent whale ship strikes. Thank you for your consideration.