Make Way for Whales (And Environmental Hope)

The Smithsonian Institution’s Ocean Initiative supports the Smithsonian’s mission to increase the public’s understanding and stewardship of the Ocean. Researchers have been working to track the migratory patterns of whales to better understand patterns and find ways to protect them. One of the biggest threats to migratory whales are collisions with ships. In the early 2000s, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) first began shifting shipping lanes to protect right whales in the Bay of Funday and Boston Harbor.

Tracking Whales

Over the last decade, researcher Hector Guzman has pioneered a satellite-positioning system to follow and track other migratory whale species in Panama, Costa Rica, and more recently Chile so that similar measures could be taken in ports in in central and South America. His work and the resulting policy changes in shipping routes has reduced the probability of whale-ship collisions in Panama by 95%.

Smithsonian Whale StoryMap

The Ocean Initiative wanted to highlight this work as part of its educational offerings to K-12 students. Dr. Guzman’s work provided a positive story about how scientific research can inform and change policy for the betterment of nature.

Make Way for the StoryMap

The Smithsonian engaged with Blue Raster to create an ArcGIS Story Map that illustrates the research and its impact in an engaging and conversational way that would connect with students. Utilizing ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS StoryMaps, the Blue Raster team built the “Make Way for Whales” StoryMap that shows how shifting shipping lanes increased the safety of whales. Additionally, the StoryMap includes:

    • Background from research papers that explains the danger shipping poses to whales and the trends impacting whale populations
    • Description of how whales are tagged and tracked
    • Details on the geographies of the coastlines studied
    • Interactive maps that show the overlay of GPS whale locations and ship traffic
    • Custom illustrations depicting Traffic Separation Schemes (TSS) being used that avoid the migratory patterns of whales
Smithsonian Whale StoryMap
Whale StoryMap images

Blue Raster used research data (compiled in spreadsheets) to build the maps and other custom graphics on the page. The resulting story shows how trade can continue to happen while being responsive to the needs of wildlife. It is an encouraging message that they hope will inspire future scientists, researchers, and environmentalists.

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