Imagine if every dolphin and whale watching boat around the world could gather data on the animals encountered, including their locations, pod compositions and behaviors. Now imagine if all of this data could be amassed at a central location for easy access by scientists and researchers.
That is the vision behind the Whale and Dolphin Tracker software developed by Pacific Whale Foundation. This software has been in use on Pacific Whale Foundation's vessels off Maui since 2010, and has allowed the foundation to accumulate data on thousands of marine mammal sightings.
Now Pacific Whale Foundation is sharing Whale and Dolphin Tracker with the world. Last summer, Greg Kaufman, the founder and executive director of Pacific Whale Foundation, presented the program at the International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee meeting in South Korea and to the Buenos Aires Group of Scientific Commissioners to the IWC in Cartegena, Colombia, in December.
Pacific Whale Foundation is sharing Whale and Dolphin Tracker with the world.
In March, Kaufman will be traveling to Brazil to attend a meeting to discuss the creation of the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary (SAWS) off the coast of South America. The governments of Argentina, Brazil, South Africa and Uruguay proposed the sanctuary to declare the southern Atlantic a no-kill zone for whales. The proposal to establish the SAWS has been presented repeatedly at International Whaling Commission meetings, but has so far failed to pass.
"This year, there is a better chance than ever that the SAWS could become established," said Kaufman. "The countries pushing for its passage are looking to the Whale and Dolphin Tracker to expedite gathering data about marine mammals in the proposed protected area."
The International Whaling Commission (IWC) Scientific Committee, of which Kaufman is a member, is also excited about this new software and its capacity to revolutionize whale research.
"It allows all vessels to become what scientists call 'Platforms of Opportunity' to gather vast amounts of data about marine mammals," he said. "I'll be presenting updates about this software at the next meeting of the IWC Scientific Committee in Slovenia in May and again at third annual International Marine Conservation Congress in Glasgow, Scotland, in August" [www.conbio.org/mini-sites/imcc-2014].
Kaufman also shared information about the Whale and Dolphin Tracker while in Oman last month for a conference about sustainable whale and dolphin watching for their local operators.
"Whale and dolphin watching is growing in popularity around the world, especially as fishermen face decreasing yields or competition that drives them out of business," he said. "Fishermen view whale or dolphin watching as a way to utilize their vessels to earn a livelihood; however, they need to be organized to learn how to protect the animals while they are watching them."
The Whale and Dolphin Tracker software will enable researchers in countries like Oman to quickly establish baseline data about the animals in the region, which will allow comparisons of populations and distribution of the animals from year to year.
The public can view a snapshot of Whale and Dolphin Tracker data gathered by Pacific Whale Foundation vessels at www.pacificwhale.org/content/whale-and-dolphin-sightings .