05/25/2016 04:37 EDT | Updated 05/25/2016 04:59 EDT

Researchers Use Mobile App To Find Endangered Right Whales

"More eyes on the water are going to help us."

Around 500 right whales have vanished from their usual feeding grounds in the Bay of Fundy and off the coast of Nova Scotia.

Hundreds of endangered whales have disappeared, and researchers from Canada and the U.S. are using an app to try and find them.

There are only 500 North Atlantic right whales left in the world, and they have two key habitats: the Bay of Fundy, and the Roseway Basin off the coast of Nova Scotia.

But a few years ago, they started vanishing.

“[Those] two areas have been traditional feeding grounds for the species over the last 30 years,” said Sean Brilliant, who works with the Canadian Wildlife Federation. "[But] there has been a real reduction in the number of whales, and last year was particularly notable."

There didn’t seem to be any observations of right whales in the Roseway Basin, and only a handful — less than a dozen — animals showed up in the Bay of Fundy."

North Atlantic right whale tangled in a net. (Photo: NOAA)

Brilliant said the pods may have moved to the Gulf of Saint Lawrence in search of food, but researchers haven't had any luck in their searches there.

To try and find the 70-tonne mammals, crews have turned to Whale Alert — a mobile app originally created to help American sailors pinpoint animals in the water to avoid collisions.

The modern version of the app, which has expanded to include Canadian waters, allows the public report whale sightings to a real-time database for researchers to examine.

Scientists hope that public sightings can provide some clues as to where the whales have gone.

"More eyes on the water are going to help us," Brilliant said in an interview with The Huffington Post Canada on Thursday.

Tough to track

The researcher, who's been studying right whales for about 10 years, said keeping track of the mammals isn't an easy task.

Traditional suction trackers get knocked off easily, harpoon trackers fall out, and whales can't wear collars like other animals.

In some cases, tracking devices are attached to a dorsal fin, but right whales don't have one.

Plus, “it’s not like we can grab a whale and punch an earring into it," Brilliant said.

“It’s not like we can grab a whale and punch an earring into it."

Brilliant said researchers, whale watchers, and a number of non-profit organizations have taken an "all hands on deck" approach to finding the mammals — including putting drones on the case.

“We have a hunt for these whales from the sky, we have a hunt for these whales on the ocean, and we have a hunt for these whales under the ocean,” he said.

And now, Brilliant said, they hope a cell phone will do the trick.

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