right whales (NOAA)

2018 Government Innovation Awards

Save the whales, with real-time data

Preventing whale deaths from ship strikes has been a priority for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association since a federal mandate required large vessels to restrict speed in whale migration areas. But after 17 endangered North Atlantic right whales were killed last year, NOAA developed a system that made it easier and faster for the U.S. Coast Guard to collect the information it needs to enforce the law.

North Atlantic Right Whale Protection System

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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The system uploads past and present data on whale migration to the cloud via scripts at regular intervals every day, making the information instantly visible to the Coast Guard’s monitoring software. NOAA IT Specialist David Chevrier said the agency also gathers and shares acoustic data from buoys and gliders so that the Coast Guard can immediately warn ships that might be a danger to the whales.

“The Coast Guard uses these services in their command centers to detect any [large] ship traveling over 10 knots in [Seasonal Management Areas or Dynamic Management Areas] in order to contact the vessel and have them slow down,” Chevrier said. “We also provide point data from our listening buoys and gliders to alert them of right whales and help steer ships away from them as well as assist in the planning of naval live-fire exercises.”

The new system is a big improvement over the previous process, when data was often out of date by the time it reached the Coast Guard and the ships in question. It is in use at the Coast Guard command center in Woods Hole, Mass., but Chevrier said he hopes NOAA will deploy the solution to Coast Guard facilities around the country.

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