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Can You Save the Whales With a Smartphone?

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One of the rarest large animals on the planet, the North Atlantic right whale can grow up to 59 feet long. These migratory whales tend to stay close to peninsulas and near continental shelves to feed. Hunted to near-extinction, the whales were one of the first species to come under the protection of the federal government in the 1930s.

With laws against whaling and the industry dying, the the no. 1 mortality factor among the endangered whales has shifted to ship strikes. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has created a ship strike rule that requires ships slow their rate of speed in particular areas of the ocean so the whale coexist with the ships. But the species remains in trouble.

David Wiley, a NOAA researcher, was integral in making ship crews more aware of the whales and the ship strike rule with the development of Whale Alert. The mobile app provides mariners the most current information available to reduce the risk of collisions between ships and right whales.

"What we're trying to do is display that rule in a way that makes compliance with it easier," Wiley said.

Nextgov honored Wiley with a 2013 Bold Award in November for his work on Whale Alert. At Nextgov Prime 2013, Wiley spoke with senior correspondent Aliya Sternstein about the app and its contribution to conservation of the whales. Wiley said the captains of the ships pose the greatest risk, but it can be mitigated if they can understand how to comply with the rule.

"We think understanding and displaying the rule as simply as possible will lead to the greatest compliance," Wiley said. "And if you have great compliance, you have great conservation."

Aliya Sternstein reports on cybersecurity and homeland security systems. She’s covered technology for more than a decade at such publications as National Journal's Technology Daily, Federal Computer Week and Forbes. Before joining Government Executive, Sternstein covered agriculture and derivatives trading for Congressional Quarterly. She’s been a guest commentator on C-SPAN, MSNBC, WAMU and Federal News Radio. Sternstein is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.

Prior to joining Government Executive’s staff, Ross Gianfortune worked at The Washington Post, The Gazette Newspapers, WXRT Radio and The Columbia Missourian. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from University of Missouri and a master's in communications from the American University.

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