The Whale Hotline public sighting network was initiated in the spring of 1976 as a means for members of the public to make collect calls to report Orca sightings in Washington state to the Orca Survey. In 1977 the current toll-free number was established (800-562-8832) and its focus was expanded to include reports of all species of cetaceans and marine mammal strandings in Washington state. During the winter of 1978 the phone line was moved to The Whale Museum where it has been maintained for the last 40 years.
In 2014 we brought the Whale Hotline online, offering the public a way to report marine mammal sightings from their computers or mobile devices. We also exposed a portion of our Hotline sighting data to the public via our API, allowing anyone that is interested the opportunity to interact with our sighting data.
In addition to building a valuable longitudinal database, the Whale Hotline has successfully allowed a large spectrum of the public to directly participate in the stewardship of local marine mammals. Check out the Monthly Arrival & Departures of Southern Resident orcas in the Salish Sea, documented since 1976. This valuable information helps identify and determine critical habitat for these endangered orcas.
Researchers, marine naturalists and members of the general public submit thousands of marine mammal sighting reports online, by phone and by email each year. These sighting reports are then compiled by The Whale Museum so that they can be confirmed.
Once a sighting report has been received, our staff at The Whale Museum then works to confirm the sighting, which is why we ask for your contact information when you make a report. If we need more information for some reason, we'll get in touch with you!
When a sighting has been confirmed, it is entered into our Whale Hotline database and made available on this website. After that, sighting data is made available to researchers, observers and the general public via our website and public API for processing and analysis.
Thousands of marine mammal sightings are submitted to The Whale Hotline each year through partnerships with local researchers, non-profits organizations, commercial whale watch operators, marine naturalists and members of the general public.
The Whale Museum maintains the data archives of this unique long-term record and makes it available to numerous research, education and management projects all over the world. Check out our public API if you are interested in working with sighting data.
In addition, each year Hotline sighting data is submitted to NOAA as part of the Southern Resident Killer Whale Recovery Plan.
No! Historically, most of our sightings have been reported without latitude and longitude coordinates. The sightings that you see on the website (and that are available via our API) are only a portion of our total sightings database. In other words, we only display reports that have reliable location data.
We’re hoping to encourage more sighting reports with accurate location information to get a better idea of the Southern Resident Killer Whale habitat use and travel patterns. Qualitative reports are still extremely useful and we have a specialized quadrant system for recording that information.
Funding for the Whale Hotline comes out of The Whale Museum's general operating budget and occasional contributions. You can help support our efforts by making a donation, adopting an orca or becoming a museum member.