LA JOLLA, Calif., Nov. 29 (UPI) -- Scientists have developed a new forecasting model to help large ocean vessels avoid collisions with blue whales, the largest species on the planet.
The model combines decades of blue whale tracking data with oceanic satellite observations to predict where large numbers of blue whales are likely to congregate in search of krill.
"We're using the many years of tag data to let the whales tell us where they go, and under what conditions," Elliott Hazen, a research ecologist at NOAA Fisheries Southwest Fisheries Science Center, said in a news release. "If we know what drives their hotspots we can more clearly assess different management options to reduce risk to the whales."
Scientists described their new model in the Journal of Applied Ecology this week. The WhaleWatch project will allow researchers to share up-to-date and accurate information about blue whale activity with the shipping industry.
"This is the first time that we've been able to predict whale densities on a year-round basis in near-real time," said Helen Bailey, the WhaleWatch project leader at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.
Though blue whale numbers off the West Coast have rebounded in recent years, the species remains listed as endangered. Ship strikes are significant threat to the massive creatures, and scientists are hopeful their new prediction tool will reduce the number of deadly collisions between whales and boats.
"[The Whalewatch model] provides a critical step towards developing seasonal and dynamic management approaches to help reduce the risk of ship strikes for blue whales in the California Current," Hazen concluded.