Scientists can now track whales from space
Sunday, February 16, 2014, 3:01 PM -
Tracking whales is no easy feat for scientists. It's an overwhelming task that usually involves counting the large mammals from the deck of a ship or an airplane. But now scientists have come up with an alternative method -- one that is quite literally out of this world.
The DigitalGlobe's WorldView-2 platform uses high-resolution satellite images and special software in which can automatically detect the great mammals, according to the report published in the journal Plos One.
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And the method has not only proven possible, but efficient.
A team of scientists from the British Antarctic Survey conducted a test count on southern right whales in the Golfo Nuevo, a circular gulf off the Argentine coast. The automated system found about 90% of creatures -- or possible whales -- in a manual search of the imagery.
"The WorldView2 satellite has a maximum 50 cm resolution and a water penetrating coastal band in the far-blue part of the spectrum that allows it to see deeper into the water column," wrote the authors in the report. "Using an image covering 113 km2, we identified 55 probable whales and 23 other features that are possibly whales, with a further 13 objects that are only detected by the coastal band."
Unlike current tracking methods, an automated satellite search could cover a much larger area of the ocean at a fraction of the cost.
Scientists hope that as the satellite improves and takes sharper images, the software could eventually monitor many more species in other types of location.
"This is the first successful study using satellite imagery to count whales; a pragmatic, transferable method using this rapidly advancing technology that has major implications for future surveys of cetacean populations."