Where are the whales off the West Coast?

Learn how WhaleWatch estimates the location and density of blue whales off California, Oregon and Washington

WhaleWatch webinar with Helen Bailey of the University of Maryland and Elliott Hazen of NOAA Fisheries


WhaleWatch is a NASA-funded project to help reduce human impacts on whales by providing near real-time information on where they occur and hence where whales may be most at risk from threats, such as ship strikes, entanglements and loud underwater sounds. These model estimates were developed from habitat-based models of whale occurrence that combine satellite tracking of whales with information on the environment.

WhaleWatch is an automated tool that uses advanced technologies to predict where blue whales are likely to be in near real-time. Whales were tagged with Argos satellite transmitters and tracked as they moved from the eastern central Pacific breeding grounds to their feeding grounds off the U.S. West Coast. The whale locations were combined with environmental data collected via satellites, including water temperature, chlorophyll concentrations, and other ocean features. The relationship between whales and the environment was then used to predict the chance of blue whale occurrence and likely densities across the modeled areas. This is calculated based on current ocean conditions to provide the near real-time maps.

This research has been conducted by a multi-institutional team of academic groups and governmental organizations led by Helen Bailey (University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science) and in collaboration with the NOAA/NMFS West Coast Regional Office. The satellite telemetry data on whales were collected by Bruce Mate and colleagues (Oregon State University), geo-spatial distribution by Ladd Irvine (OSU), habitat modeling by Daniel Palacios (OSU), Elliott Hazen, Steven Bograd, Karin Forney (NOAA/NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center), and the web tool created by Evan Howell and Aimee Hoover (NOAA/NMFS Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center).

Funding for this project was provided under the interagency NASA, USGS, National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Smithsonian Institution Climate and Biological Response program, Grant Number NNX11AP71G. Funding for whale tagging was provided by the Office of Naval Research, the Marine Mammal Institute at OSU, and the Sloan, Packard and Moore Foundations to the Tagging of Pacific Predators Program.

For more information on WhaleWatch please contact Helen Bailey.