We created a flag to help boaters communicate when marine mammals are near.

We created a flag to help boaters communicate when marine mammals are near.

Photo provided by International Whaling Commission

Photo provided by International Whaling Commission

Summer 2018, SMELTS Line-Less fishing gear testing photographs.  / PC: Richard Riels & Kevin Rand

Summer 2018, SMELTS Line-Less fishing gear testing photographs. /PC: Richard Riels & Kevin Rand

Marine Mammal Collision Avoidance


Ship strikes can harm or kill all types of marine mammals, though the most noticeable impact and the most often reported are whale strikes. These mammals can be carried many miles from the location of the strike by riding on the bow of modern ocean going vessels (see photograph).

Most ship strikes are unseen and therefore unknown, which can make it difficult to quantify the effect. Ship strikes are, nonetheless, a major factor in reducing healthy populations of whales.

The North Atlantic Right Whale, for example, already has low population numbers and as such they cannot sustain even one ship strike death without a significant impact on the species as a whole. Certain at risk populations that are known to have high ship strike numbers need improved awareness to avoid further impacts. We have developed a flag for mariners to use to alert other vessels that whales are present in the water.


When a boater is in close proximity to whales, they can fly the yellow caution flag as an indicator to approaching mariners to slow their speed and/or change course to avoid a possible collision, much the same as how a diver down flag warns mariners to slow and proceed with caution when humans are in the water.

SMELTS is working on a comprehensive system to prevent ship strikes of North Atlantic Right Whales that utilizes a 20’x30’ flag with mast on a moveable buoy. A goal for this unit would be to become an Official Aid to Navigation (ATON) presented daily by the Coast Guard through Electronic Aid to Navigation (ETON) charts (E-Chart).

The smart buoy with a large CAUTION:WHALE flag, hydrophone, flashing beacon, GPS and wide scanning thermal imaging would provide real time data to mariners with warnings that could go through the Automated Information System (AIS) to all ships in the region.

Right Whales have known aggregations throughout a season and many aerial and boat based surveys are already conducted. SMELTS buoys would be deployed in each known region the whales are sighted. These buoys can work 365 days a year. We are also working on ship based systems that look for whales and provide immediate warnings through AIS.

SMELTS is seeking funding for the development and launching of these smart buoys. We are the designer and vendor of the flags which are made in the USA. Please contact us for purchasing information.