We Hacked A Way To Help Whales And The Oceans’ Ecosystems

By Lindsey O'Sullivan, Director of People Operations

ocean sustainability nautilus labs

Nautilus hosted the first formal Hack Day event in our history earlier this month. Hack Days in tech are generally considered time carved out for employees to focus on projects they’re passionate about with the goal of building something new and innovative, from start to finish, by the end of the event. The Nautilus Hack Day was a valuable opportunity for our team to set aside day-to-day commitments, spend an entire day creating something new and exciting, and have some fun in the process. And since we’re currently working as a fully remote team, Hack Day also brought us together, working cross-functionally, in a new way—working on projects both near and dear to us and, in many cases, beneficial to the broader maritime community.

No limits on innovation.

We had one day to work and one rule to abide by: with a cross-functional team of five, choose your project and prepare to present the results of your collaboration in 24 hours. Armed with this open-ended prompt, Nautilus teams brainstormed and rallied around common interests.  Ultimately, there was only one team that took home the prize for Most Creative Hack. This Nautilus Hack Day team reminded us that sustainability can be measured by more than just reductions in fuel consumption and emissions, it can also be measured by the impact of ocean shipping on whales—one of the largest species within marine life.

Ship strikes were responsible for 37% of right whale deaths from 2003–2018.

37%. That means that for every 3 whales that died, 1 died because of a collision with a ship. This number deserves more attention than it gets, as whales can sequester 33 tons of CO2 on average in their lifetime. We’d technically be better off saving whales than planting trees, if we had to choose between the two, according to a report published by the International Monetary Fund. Knowing that ocean shipping disproportionately causes cetacean deaths, our Hack Day team was determined to explore a technical solution for the problem.

Speed adherence and crew awareness as preventive measures.

It’s known that by slowing down to 10 knots in known whale zones, the risk of collisions can be reduced by 86%. Because of this, NOAA has established mandatory and voluntary speed limits along the East Coast of the US in an effort to protect North Atlantic Right Whales, an endangered species of which only 400 remain. The rules restrict all vessels longer than 65 ft from exceeding a speed of 10 knots in known whale zones. Still though, even in mandatory zones, not all vessels comply.  In March 2020, Oceana found that over 10% of ships transiting through the mandatory Seasonal Management Area (SMA) near Block Island, Rhode Island were not complying with the mandatory speed restriction and 41% of vessels exceeded the voluntary speed limit in Dynamic Management Areas (DMA), south of nearby Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.

save the whales nautilus labs sustainability

The map indicates known whale zones.

Our Hack Day team decided to experiment with and mock the entire user journey for a whale zone alerting tool, reinforcing where operators should comply with SMA and DMA speed restrictions. Then they developed mock whale zones, which they overlaid on the sophisticated technical analyses and recommendations that our platform regularly outputs, powered by our vessel-specific machine learning algorithms. The overlay provides yet another insight to captain, crew and onshore teams, allowing for a focus on both sustainable and operational excellence.

It’s time to act.

The oceans are where life began and where life is sustained. We need to take care of our environment and be better stewards of the seas. Our Hack Day ended in a reminder that we can drive sustainability through the protection of marine life. At Nautilus we are committed to a future where ocean shipping is leading towards a carbon-free future and a better planet for all life. 

If you’re inspired by our mission and want to join the crew, reach out at careers@nautiluslabs.com.

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