Timely alerts to vessel operators
Collisions with ships are one of the most common causes of death or injury for cetaceans. Over 180,000 vessels are on the water at any given point in time. The likelihood of collisions occurring will increase as the world’s reliance on ship-based transportation of goods and people increases.
One of the world’s whale hot-spots is the waters of British Columbia (BC), Canada. These waters are also one of the busier spots in the world for shipping. The importance of the whales is well understood by the people of BC, both from an economic and an environmental perspective.
With over 25,000 km of coastline to monitor, Ocean Wise (supported by Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre) were seeking a system enabling the public to easily get involved in reporting sightings of cetaceans and sea turtles, and alerting vessel operators in the area.
In the past sightings have been reported on a toll-free phone line, a web form, in email or using a paper logbook. However, given that many sightings were unexpected, the ability to use a mobile phone to capture sighting details provides added benefits including accelerating and streamlining the process.
Lapis was engaged by Ocean Wise to develop a solution that provided a simple and powerful tool for submitting sighting reports, while taking advantage of mobile device functionality such as camera and GPS.
Lapis then developed the Whale Report Alert System, a system that utilises the real-time whale location information received through the WhaleReport app to alert commercial vessel operators that are travelling the waters of British Columbia of whales in their vicinity.
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An integrated reporting system
Lapis first developed the mobile application ‘WhaleReport’ to enable submission of whale sighting reports, taking advantage of mobile device functionality such as camera and GPS.
The application is used across British Columbia by whale watching operators, lighthouse keepers, charter boat operators, tugboat captains, BC Ferries personnel, researchers, government employees, recreational boaters and coastal residents.
Reports can be captured in the field whether connected or not. The app was engineered to store any unsent reports and allow the reporter to submit them once they have connectivity, an important feature given the vast areas of their coastlines and the remote locations where sighting may occur.
The success of this app in increasing the number of sighting reports led to the development of the Whale Report Alert System (WRAS). The WRAS mobile app was developed to utilise the real-time whale location information received through the WhaleReport app to alert commercial vessel operators that are travelling the waters of British Columbia of whales in their vicinity. These alerts can then be used by skippers to take mitigation measures, such as slowing down or diverting course, to reduce the risk of collision and disturbance.
“The response from Sightings Network observers about WhaleReport has been overwhelmingly positive. Compared to other methods of reporting, observers are saying WhaleReport is by far the quickest and easiest way to report, and they love seeing the sightings they’ve submitted on the personalized map. The ease of reporting has re-engaged many observer groups, such as Parks Canada and some ecotourism operators that found recording sightings via other methods too tedious.”
Tessa Danalesko, Project Coordinator, Ocean Wise
WRAS also includes a web interface that alerts shipping control rooms of whale sightings so that they are also able to use their own communications systems to inform skippers of whales in their vicinity.
Finally, there is a WhaleReport web portal to provide information to organisations or groups that actively generate sighting reports as part of a project or business activity to drive interest and adoption of the WhaleReport reporting app.
200% increase in reports received
The WhaleReport app has been an astounding success with over 8,900 sightings submitted in the first 24 months. At the time of launch, the tool garnered support from local media, through educational presentations and blogs. The app now accounts for over 70% of all sighting reports received.
The app has brought together a network of trusted reporters throughout BC including lightkeepers, vessel skippers and crew, environmental groups and committed locals along the coastline of British Columbia (BC). Close relationships with these reporters has driven the number of reports being received and ensured that the quality of those reports are of a high level.
Consistently high levels of reporting and trust in the quality of reports combine to provide a source of information that has contributed to the success of the app’s alert system, helping to reduce vessel-associated impacts for whales.
Other benefits include:
- Engaging the public and re-engaging eco-tourism operators
- Detailed descriptions and images help identification and education
- Reports are captured in the field whether connected or not
- Instant delivery of reports to Ocean Wise via the app