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Orca whales surface for air around the San Juan Islands of Puget Sound Washington

File Photo: Dusty Roads/Shutterstock

U.S. Coast Guard Launches Puget Sound Whale Desk

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 1513
February 23, 2024

The U.S. Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound has launched a cetacean desk pilot program this week as part of an effort to protect endangered whales from vessels in the area.

The four-year initiative is aimed at mitigating the negative effects of maritime vessel traffic on large cetaceans in the Salish Sea.

The program is enabled by the Don Young Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2022 and will be hosted in the Puget Sound Vessel Traffic Service (VTS). It will collect whale sighting reports from mariners and supply near real-time data on whale locations via the Whale Report Alert System (WRAS). By providing this situational awareness, the program hopes to decrease incidents of ship strikes and disturbances to whales in the Puget Sound area.

“The new cetacean desk aligns with our regional goals to help endangered whales and ships share the waters of the Salish Sea,” said Rachel Aronson, the Quiet Sound program director at Washington Maritime Blue. “When mariners call in a sighting to the VTS, that sighting will be used to help other mariners make safer choices. Quiet Sound members from the federal, tribal, state, port, maritime and conservation sectors are excited to support and help grow this pilot program.”

The initiative will also align operations with the Canadian Coast Guard Marine Mammal Desk, ensuring a unified approach to whale reporting and notifications across the Salish Sea. “We are honored to host this pilot program and look forward to strengthening our relationships with our partners,” said Coast Guard Capt. Mark McDonnell.

Grace Ferrara, a marine mammal biologist at NOAA’s Fisheries office in Seattle, praised the Coast Guard for its proactive approach to protect marine life.

“The U.S. Coast Guard is stepping up for mariners, whales, and other wildlife in Puget Sound, coordinating and efficiently sharing valuable insight” said Ferrara.

The program’s performance will be continually assessed and improved to maximize its effectiveness in protecting whales. The Coast Guard plans to collaborate with various partners and stakeholders in program development and future enhancements.

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