Nortel reporting system helps protect endangered whale

Some long-term government projects might take five or 10 years to complete.

But a project Nortel Government Solutions has taken on with the Coast Guard is already 10 years old and might not see an end for 100 years.

With the Mandatory Ship Reporting System, the Coast Guard, Nortel and other partners are trying to save the right whale from extinction.

There are only about 350 of the whales left and “it’ll probably take more than 100 years for them to bounce back,” said Katie Moore, a strategic planner with the Coast Guard.

In 1999, Nortel developed the MSRS system, which automates the collections and distribution of information on the location of right whales and ships of more than 300 tons.

The system takes reports from the National Marine Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and automatically feeds them to large commercial ships in the area of right whales.

Data is collected through a variety of communication technologies include radios, email, telex and satellite and has to be automatically integrated, said Sri Surapaneni, a center director at Nortel Government Solutions.

The company, which recently won an $800,000 recompete to keep working on the project, has developed software and relational data bases as well the communications connections to build the system, she said.

The project is a critical link in protecting the whales, which like to stay in coastal areas and swim relatively close to the surface. This puts them at risk of colliding with ships, Moore said. They also are at risk of net entanglements, but the Nortel system isn’t designed to address that risk.

One right whale can weigh 70 tons and be as long as 55 feet.

“It is a very bulky animal,” Moore said.

The whales were early and easy targets of the whaling industry in the United States because they could be spotted and hunted from shore. Because of their high blubber content, they floated after they were killed, hence the name right whale – they were the right whale to kill, Moore said.

The system Nortel built collects sightings of right whales from NOAA spotter planes. That information, including longitude and latitude, is then automatically relayed to the ships.

Commercial ships of more than 300 tons are required to report when they enter one of two protected areas. One, known as WhalesNorth, is off the coast of Cape Cod, Mass., and WhalesSouth is off the coast of Georgia and northern Florida, The reporting in WhalesSouth is only required from November through April, which is the time when the female whales are calving and raising their young, Moore said.

When the ships report in, they are given information on the latest locations of the whales and are advised on recommended routes, avoidance procedures and other information, she said.

While the reporting system is designed to protect the whales and raise awareness among mariners, it also helps with enforcement activities, Moore said.

Data from this system is cross checked with information commercial vessels filed as part of their Advanced Notice of Arrival, she said.

While the right whale’s population remains critically low, there are signs of success. So far this spring, 39 calves have been spotted, Moore said, and the calving season isn’t over.

Data from the system also helped support a new regulation that requires all vessels over 65 feet in length to slow to 10 knots or less when moving through the protected areas.

About the Author

Nick Wakeman is the editor-in-chief of Washington Technology. Follow him on Twitter: @nick_wakeman.

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