The annual right whale migration passes through some of the most heavily-traveled waters of the Mid-Atlantic. In fact, the Mid-Atlantic Ocean is often referred to as an urban ocean due to the incredible density of commercial and recreational shipping, boating and fishing traffic. This dense shipping traffic presents a serious survival risk to right whale adults and calves during their annual migration.

Automatic Identification System (AIS) technology was originally conceived to increase navigational safety for large shipping vessels, but this powerful technology can also be used to reduce the risk of accidental collisions with right whales. Unfortunately, the AIS system is not mandatory for all vessels. In collaboration with the Virginia Aquarium, we are using RADAR and AIS technology to characterize vessel traffic and evaluate the extent of AIS use.

This study will also increase our understanding of ship speed and traffic density in the Norfolk area during right whale migration times. Ultimately, we may be able to use this information to influence policy decisions or push for mandatory speed restrictions and other measures for ships traveling through right whale habitats.