Marine scientists looking for new ways to reduce the number of whales struck and killed off California's coast by massive commercial ships have turned to a familiar tool: mobile devices.
An app called Whale Spotter uses crowdsourcing to gather data, allowing sailors, fishermen and marine scientists who spot whales to plot their location on an interactive map. The maps created could then be used by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Coast Guard officials to recommend different vessel routes.
The app is the latest development in a collaboration between shipping companies, government officials and scientists to reduce whale strikes. Testing begins this weekend to see how effective it will be.
"Right now, we know where the ships are, but we don't know where the whales are," said John Berge, vice president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association.
In the busy ports of the San Francisco Bay Area, more than 7,300 large ships head through the Golden Gate each year. Just outside the Bay, whales often swim along the continental shelf, where their food supply is plentiful.
Several dead whales, including an endangered fin whale, suspected to have been killed by ship strikes have washed ashore this year in the Bay Area.
The weeklong tests of the app beginning Saturday will occur in the Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries.
Marine scientists working on the Farallon Islands off San Francisco's coast already have been inputting whale sightings from their unique perch, from where the westernmost shipping lanes can be seen.