An online tool to detect and better protect — in near real-time — whales inhabiting the Santa Barbara Channel is now live. Whale Safe is the product of a collaboration among marine scientists with the Benioff Ocean Initiative at UC Santa Barbara and top whale researchers from across the country.
“We’re excited to finally launch it into the world,” said Morgan Visalli, a Benioff Ocean Initiative (BOI) scientist and Whale Safe project lead. The result of three years of work between BOI researchers and colleagues at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Texas A&M University at Galveston, the University of Washington, UC Santa Cruz, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Southwest Fisheries Science Center, Whale Safe is a mapping and analysis tool that displays near real-time data to help prevent ships and whales from colliding, an event that happens far too often off the West Coast.
“Unfortunately, 2018 and 2019 were the worst years on record for fatal whale-ship collisions off the coast of California,” Visalli said. “We hope that data from the Whale Safe system can help to reverse that trend.”
The high number of collisions is due to a confluence of several factors, she explained. For one thing, whales often feed, migrate, rest, mate and socialize in coastal areas. Blue whales, the largest animals that have ever lived, are currently found along our coast’s cold, krill-filled waters, which has been especially busy this summer. Aggregations of 30 blue whales were observed feeding in the Santa Barbara Channel in early August.