Others also see the value of working with industry groups. Whale Safe is an initiative by the University of California at Santa Barbara to help large ships avoid hitting whales while passing through ports in Los Angeles. The program was in part in response to shipping companies asking for help, according to Douglas McCauley, professor of marine science at UCSB

Ship attacks, as they are known, are among the leading causes of whale death, and 2018 and 2019 were the worst years of collisions on the west coast. A total of 27 deaths resulted in 22 deaths according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration. Scientists estimate that the actual number of whales killed by ships could be much higher – as many as 80 per year off the west coast according to one study – as not all bodies are discovered.

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Dr. McCauley helped bring marine technologists working at UCSB together to develop a real-time detection system for whales in the Santa Barbara Channel. Three inputs were combined: an artificial intelligence algorithm that analyzes whale sounds, classifies them by species and sends the data for review; a remote sensing system that predictably predicts the presence of whales; and simple old citizen science where trained whale watchers log whales into a mobile app.

“It doesn’t help to just say, ‘Southern California is likely to be cloudy with the chance of blue whales,” and this model predicts on a much finer scale, said Dr. McCauley.

The system provides the information to ships in a simplified rubric of low, medium, high and very high so that they can slow down when there are whales nearby, which can significantly reduce the number of ship attacks. Whale Safe only provides data on this particular stretch of the California coast, but Dr. McCauley said they plan to expand to San Francisco and possibly elsewhere in North America.

When ships slow down, they use less fuel, which leads to fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants. The global shipping industry causes nearly 3 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.