The next time you cruise, your yacht’s AIS system may do more than help your captain navigate crowded waters. In fact, it might just help save endangered whales. MarineTraffic, the largest publicly available vessel-tracking service, which uses AIS data, is a partner in the SAvE Whales project in the Mediterranean.
The initiative just launched this year, bringing together marine biologists, conservationists, and professionals in applied mathematics, underwater acoustics, and other technical fields. SAvE Whales stands for System for the Avoidance of Ship Strikes with Endangered Whales. The program will focus on waters in Greece, since endangered sperm whales live there. Specifically, about 200 such whales reside in the underwater canyons of the Hellenic Trench. Unfortunately, they are the last of their species in the entire Mediterranean.
SAvE Whales, which will last three years, will employ an automated system that “listens” for these sperm whales. They feed and breed along the busy shipping routes vital to vessels heading from the Adriatic to the Aegean Sea, for example. Those routes also include traffic moving from the Black Sea or southeastern Med. Altogether, 31,000 large vessels cross the Hellenic Trench annually. So, the automated system will alert captains, thereby helping them avoid collisions. Furthermore, the system will generate data about the whales’ general habits, to help conservationists learn more.
Dmitris Lekkas, MarineTraffic’s founder, says the company is proud to participate. “In SAvE Whales, we will provide the data management tools necessary for the protection of these important but endangered mammals,” he explains.
Ultimately, MarineTraffic and the other parties believe the ambitious program could be replicated for other seas. “We have hope and trust in this pilot, which could become a true whale-saving model to be applied in other regions around the globe,” says Sigrid Lüber, president of OceanCare, which is spearheading the ambitious project. OceanCare is a marine-conservation organization celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.