Coastal British Columbians can help save whales by reporting sightings using the WhaleReport App!
Photo credit (above): Parks Canada
Did you know you can help protect the whales you see in the wild with your smartphone?
With summer boating and cabin season upon us, many coastal British Columbians will experience the thrill of seeing whales in the wild. But before reaching for your camera, whale researchers and conservationists are calling on British Columbians to reach for their smartphones and report their whale sightings using the Ocean Wise WhaleReport App.
Contributing to research in just a few clicks
By submitting whale sightings, you’ll be contributing to Ocean Wise’s BC Cetacean Sightings Network, a database of more than 130,000 whale sightings, spanning some 50 years. This dataset provides researchers and policy makers with critical information on the occurrence and health of whales, dolphins, porpoises and sea turtles in BC, Northern Washington and Southeastern Alaskan waters. Each year, subsets of this database are provided for more than 15 conservation-focused research projects in BC and beyond. These data also contribute to important policymaking aimed at protecting endangered whales.
Reporting safeguards whales from risk of ship strikes
Your sighting will also protect the whales you report from the risk of ship strike and disturbance. Sending a sighting through the WhaleReport app as soon as you see a whale will immediately trigger an alert to large commercial ships such as ferries, tankers, and tugs travelling within 10 nautical miles of the reported whale. This information allows ship captains to slow down or change course to reduce the risk of striking or otherwise disturbing the whale. Partners of this program comprise 46 marine organizations throughout BC and Washington State, including BC Ferries, Washington State Ferries, BC Coast Pilots, Puget Sound Pilots, and the Canadian and US navies.
“Sadly, vessel strikes are recognized as a significant source of mortality for whales”, says Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard, leader of the Whales Initiative at Ocean Wise. “In addition, underwater noise from vessels negatively impacts a whale’s ability to find food, communicate, navigate, and care for its young. The critically-endangered southern resident killer whales inhabit southern BC and northern Washington waters, where vessel traffic is particularly high. With a few simple clicks on your phone, you can have a direct, positive impact on critically-endangered killer whales and on other whales as well.”
Of the 25 species of whales, dolphins, porpoises, and sea turtles in BC waters, 11 populations are officially listed as at-risk, and all face multiple pressures.
“In 2020, we saw a 20% decrease in WhaleReport App sightings due to COVID and changes to people’s travel and boating habits,” said Jessica Scott, whale researcher at Ocean Wise. “We’re asking the public to help us make up for last year by downloading the app and using it every time you see a whale, whether from land or sea. You can also report sightings of dolphins, porpoises and sea turtles.”
The WhaleReport App was launched by Ocean Wise in 2015 and is continually being improved. In March of this year, a web version of the app was released to facilitate reporting in areas of unreliable cell service like BC’s north coast and southern Alaska.
Anyone can be a whale reporter: individuals, eco-tourism companies, students, commercial boaters, pleasure cruisers and NGOs. And even if you’re not on the water, you can still see whales and report sightings from shore. Ocean Wise is proud to partner with The Whale Trail, a land-based whale watching program that continues to expand in BC directing people to 40+ great locations along the coast to spot whales from shore.
Whale sighting reports can be made via the downloadable WhaleReport app, or at WildWhales.org via the web app. The App is available for iOS and android and is free to download. Go to WildWhales.org to learn more.