Washington ferries use new app to help struggling orca population

Oct 2, 2019, 9:51 AM
whale tracking, orcas, orca...
Southern resident orcas. (AP)

Washington state ferry crews are now adding reports to a new app, and using it to help save the local orca population.

Fight to save Northwest orcas also being fought in Florida

The “WhaleReport Alert System” app will allow ferries to track the location of whales — including the Northwest’s endangered orcas — and use that information to avoid them altogether.

“They can slow down or avoid those whales, and give them more room as they’re going by to reduce the impacts, particularly of the noise of the vessel for the Southern Resident Killer Whale,” said Environmental Stewardship Director Kevin Bartoy.

Smaller recreational boaters can report orca sightings to populate the app, although they will not have access to the location reports themselves. Access will be limited to large commercial vessels, in an effort to “reduce vessel disturbance to at-risk whale populations.”

The app is part of a multi-pronged plan to help the Northwest’s struggling orcas.

“It’s one of several things that we’re doing … and it’s something that we’ve been working on for years now, and are really excited to get the first little part of it out the door,” said Bartoy.

Transient orca seen feeding on gray whale near Whidbey Island

The hope is that the app will eventually be adopted by the Port of Seattle and U.S. Navy. It’s already been in use in British Columbia, with roughly 7,000 people participating. The state’s ferries are the first to utilize it south of the Canadian border in Washington.

You can download the app both on Apple and Android phones. You can report sightings by species, and add photos and other pertinent information. Your location is tagged directly by the app.

Back in August, three southern resident orcas were confirmed dead, bringing the local population down to just 73.

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Washington ferries use new app to help struggling orca population