Where are the Whalers?

Last week, a visitor to our site asked if Global Fishing Watch can be used to track whaling ships.

The short answer is yes, sometimes. At the moment, our machine learning algorithms are being designed to classify three major types of fishing activity—trawling, longlining and purse seining—but some whaling vessels report themselves as “fishing vessels,” and thus appear on our map. Here’s an example of one we recently found.  Below is a screen shot of the map showing the US Exclusive Economic Zone around Hawaii and Midway Island (EEZ delineated in blue).  We’ve circled a string of points that look like a vessel track headed straight toward, or away from, the border of the marine protected area (delineated in red).

Selecting one of the points revealed the track. We zoomed out to see that this vessel traveled from Japan straight to the US EEZ, skirted around the marine protected area before exiting the EEZ, changing course a few times and returned to Japan.

Yushin Maru Track

We zoomed in and found what looked like some kind of fishing behavior throughout the track. Below, is a close up of the vessel’s activity from July 29-31, 2015,  when it was traveling close to the boundary of the marine protected area. [See this track on the GFW map.]

Yushin Maru close to MPA

We selected vessel information in the upper right corner and learned that it is the Yushin Maru No. 3. A Google search showed us that this vessel is a Japanese whaler. According to vessel registry results that also showed up in our search, it is registered as a research vessel. Although the Japanese continue to capture whales under the auspices of scientific inquiry, we can’t say that’s what it was doing just by looking at this track. Research vessels do all kinds of unusual things as they conduct various studies.

Yushin Maru Wikipedia

We don’t know why the Yushin Maru No. 3 was traveling through the US EEZ last year–we leave that assessment to the experts–but it was an interesting find, and it answers our visitor’s question. Yes, we do see whaling vessels in Global Fishing Watch, but we have not yet tuned our algorithms around movements specific with whaling. You can go to this track on the map to see it for yourself.

You can also search for specific whaling vessel tracks by typing the name of the vessel into the search box in the upper right corner.

If you see any interesting tracks while you’re using the tool, let us know. We’d love to hear about it.