Bahía Ballena is home to the Marino Ballena National Park. The park, known for the natural sand formation of a whale’s tale that reveals itself during low tide, is home to a diverse plant and animal ecosystem. The park is one of the few locations in the world where whales from both the northern and southern hemispheres migrate yearly. The presence of whales year round makes Bahía Ballena a destination for eco-tourists from all over the world.
Since 2012 local guides, boat captains and tour companies have participated in monitoring the number and species of whales in the national park, using GPS and GIS to record and map all sightings during their daily boat tours with tourists. In 2015, guides and captains were able to collect monitoring data using their cellphones.
Back on land, the guides analyse the maps to understand the patterns of the whales they are seeing. Are the whales inside or outside of the National Park boundaries? Are they concentrated in certain areas of the National Park. What patterns exist with the whale sightings? Are there certain areas of the parks where whales are not spotted?
This data is then used by locals to share with tourists the whale locations. But the data collected also enables the community of Bahia Ballena to develop a better understanding of the health of the whales, and of the need to conserve the biological resource that makes the region a tourist destination over time.
Sharing this data with the wider scientific community enables comparison of the recorded whale sightings with current oceanic and environmental conditions to examine changes in migration patterns or potential changes in population numbers.
This project demonstrates the power of GIS; the guides, captains and tour companies are using GPS and GIS technologies at their own disposal, creating and analyzing data in a way that has the potential to support the conservation of Marino Ballena National Park as well as providing an economic benefit for the community of Bahia Ballena. For this community and GIS, whale monitoring is just the start.