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New “Whale Desk” helps ships steer clear of Puget Sound orcas and other whales

A launch celebration for the Coast Guard’s new “Whale Desk” traffic alert system at Coast Guard Base Seattle took place Wednesday, February 21, 2024. Senator Maria Cantwell, who wrote the legislation that created the system, was at the celebration at Coast Guard Base Seattle.

Senator Maria Cantwell

The “Whale Desk” will give Puget Sound vessel operators and mariners near real-time data about the location of whales. The desk will also field reports on whale locations from the public using a dedicated hotline. Residents and waterways users can report whale sightings to the Whale Desk by calling 206-217-ORCA. The data collected will be valuable for researchers who track whale migration patterns. The program aims to reduce encounters that disturb whales, including noise pollution and ship strikes.

"I was proud to author legislation to establish a program that ... allows the Coast Guard, if you will, to act almost like air traffic controllers -- trying to have large vessel traffic get out of the ways of our orca population," said Sen. Cantwell. "The whale desk will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week and will serve as a vital tool for protecting whale populations in Puget Sound."

"Today, we have vessel operators, scientists, and Coast Guard coming together," Sen. Cantwell added. "These professionals manage the entire maritime transportation system ... now they will be ready to share and disseminate information that will help our whale population including our beloved orcas. [With] this approach we can keep our economy moving and we can keep whales moving too.”

As chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Sen. Cantwell leads Senate oversight of the Coast Guard. Sen. Cantwell authored provisions in the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2022 to authorize the “Whale Desk” pilot program. In December 2022, the program was signed into law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.

The Coast Guard worked with federal and international agencies, tribes (Makah, Port Gamble S’Klallam, and Lummi tribes), local and state entities, and scientists when developing the new program. The pilot program will run for four years.

Throughout her time in the Senate, Sen. Cantwell has been a staunch advocate of protecting and strengthening critical orca populations – as well as salmon, a vital orca food source. As Commerce Chair, Sen. Cantwell fought to secure a historic $2.855 billion investment in salmon and ecosystem restoration programs, as well as tens of billions of dollars allocated for water infrastructure in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Sen. Cantwell continued to deliver on investments for coastal communities and climate resilience including salmon recovery efforts and salmon hatchery infrastructure funding by securing an additional $2.6 billion in the Inflation Reduction Act in August 2022.

 

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