Reducing Whale-Ship Collisions
Cutting River Plastic Waste

Reducing Whale-Ship Collisions

Whale conservation emerged as a recurring theme during our first idea crowdsourcing campaign, and we were specifically inspired by the submissions “Reduce collisions between whales and ships” and “Protecting blue whales and blue skies.” The Benioff Ocean Science Laboratory committed $1.5 million to find and implement solutions to reduce collisions between large cargo ships and endangered whales.

Whales are among the largest creatures on earth and play vital roles in maintaining healthy underwater ecosystems. Yet, intensive whaling over the past 200 years has brought many populations to the brink of extinction, and today many species remain threatened or endangered. Although hunting has decreased dramatically over the last century, another danger threatens whales – massive cargo ships.

Whale-ship collisions are currently a leading cause of death for large whales, and scientists estimate that over 80 blue, humpback, and fin whales are killed by vessel collisions on the West Coast of the United States each year. Ship strike risk is especially high in the Santa Barbara Channel near the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in California. In the Channel, plentiful feeding grounds for blue and humpback whales overlap with busy shipping lanes transited by thousands of vessels each year. As global maritime traffic continues to increase, it is critical that we implement solutions now to protect endangered whales.



To address this growing problem, the Benioff Ocean Science Laboratory and partners have launched Whale Safe, a technology-based mapping and analysis tool that collects and displays near real-time whale and ship data to help prevent fatal ship collisions with endangered whales.

It integrates acoustic and visual whale detections with model predictions to provide mariners with the latest information on whale presence. Whale Safe also uses Automatic Identification System (AIS) data to track ship speeds and calculate cooperation rates with voluntary speed limits that are put in place by NOAA and the Coast Guard to protect whales. Whale Safe serves as the first near real-time actionable whale notification system that incorporates AI-powered ocean sensors, big data models, citizen science, and ship tracking data. The first Whale Safe system has been deployed in the Santa Barbara Channel near the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The Research Team

Whale Safe is a collaboration of leading marine scientists from the Benioff Ocean Science Laboratory, 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.

Real-Time Acoustic Detection of Whales: Dr. Mark Baumgartner and collaborators from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution developed and deployed a passive acoustic monitoring buoy that uses an automated detection algorithm to detect, classify, and report the sounds of blue, humpback, and fin whales in near real-time.

Blue Whale Predictive Modeling: Dr. Elliott Hazen and Dr. Briana Abrahms lead a team of researchers from UC Santa Cruz, NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center, and the University of Washington. They have developed a fine-scale dynamic model that uses oceanographic data to make daily predictions of blue whale habitat, like weather forecasting for whales. 

Acoustics Tailored for California Whales: Dr. Ana Širović from Texas A&M University at Galveston (previously UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography) prepared for the deployment of the acoustic monitoring system in California by using underwater recordings to characterize the sound signature of regionally important whale species and populations. Dr.Širović also leads the team that receives and validates whale detections sent via satellite from the acoustic monitoring system.

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