Here's how satellite data is helping to protect whales

Using satellite data collected from more than 1,000 tagged whales by 50 research groups over 30 years, WWF’s Protecting Whales and Dolphins Initiative—which includes Oregon State University, the University of California Santa Cruz, and the University of Southampton—has for the first time mapped the “superhighways” through which the marine mammals migrate. It’s also documented the multiple threats whales encounter along the way. Despite improved policies to protect these animals in recent decades, whales increasingly face warmer waters and the impacts of global trade. WWF is working to galvanize national and international action to identify and protect vulnerable habitats, regulate fishing and shipping practices, and prevent plastics and other waste from winding up in the ocean.

Whale routes




Satellite Tracks

Migration Direction

Migration Corridors

  International Seas

  National Seas

  © UKO GORTER Illustrations of whales

  Bowhead Whales

  Gray Whales

  North Atlantic Right Whales

  Humpback Whales

  Southern Right Whales

  Sperm Whales

  Blue Whales


Humpback whales traveling between Hawaii and southeast Alaska contend with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a mass of discarded fishing gear and nets, plastic, and other debris brought together by ocean currents. The Global Ghost Gear Initiative, of which WWF is a member, is working to address the global tsunami of marine litter, which entangles and kills an estimated 300,000 whales, dolphins, and porpoises each year.


Each year, more than a million marine mammals pass through the Bering Strait. More and more, their journeys are impacted by warming waters, oil spills, ship strikes, and noise pollution. Governments, WWF, and other organizations in the US and Russia aim to better regulate fishing and shipping activities by keeping vessels out of critical habitats, developing marine protected areas, and promoting new navigation technologies.


Entanglement in fishing gear poses the biggest threat to North Atlantic right whales, which are also vulnerable to ship strikes as they travel between Canada and the southern US. As rising ocean temperatures push whale feeding grounds northward into a major shipping lane, the two countries have worked to divert shipping traffic from migration routes and enact speed restrictions. But greater enforcement is needed to recover these critically endangered giants.


Underwater noise pollution from naval sonar exercises, seismic testing, and oil and gas exploration in the heavily trafficked Mediterranean endangers fin, sperm, and beaked whales by disrupting communication and causing disorientation, hearing loss, and even death. While some countries have established protected areas and worked to mitigate ship strikes, governments must enact more stringent legislation to safeguard acoustically sensitive marine species.


Widespread unregulated fishing threatens blue and humpback whales and other species throughout the Indian Ocean, where busy fishing fleets and high-density shipping traffic criss-cross breeding and foraging sites. To minimize cetacean bycatch and protect vital fish stocks, WWF and partners are working to ban the illegal use of large driftnets and improve the regulation of offshore fisheries.


Blue, fin, minke, southern right, and humpback whales eat krill, a main food source around the Antarctic Peninsula. But ocean warming, acidification, and declining sea ice are transforming marine ecosystems, shifting krill southward, with negative impacts on migrating whales. In addition to improving krill fisheries management, WWF supports research to understand whale foraging hotspots and how they can be protected against climate change.

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