International Whale Shark Research Program Uses NASA Algorithm To Identify, Track Animals

2017-12-06T15:17:13+00:00 December 6, 2017|
Whale shark gliding off Sail Rock in the Gulf of Thailand. (Credit: iStockphoto/Dirk-Jan Mattaar)

Whale shark gliding off Sail Rock in the Gulf of Thailand. (Credit: iStockphoto/Dirk-Jan Mattaar)

An international research project tracking whale sharks is being praised as a unique collaboration using ‘citizen science’ and NASA technology.

(From ABC News Australia/By David Weber) — The project relied on people sending in photos, taken over many years in locations around the world, which were then analysed against other pictures.

Lead author and Murdoch University Associate Doctor Bradley Norman said the information gained helped track the whale sharks.

“A great example of citizen science where members of the public can play a really positive and active role in monitoring our wildlife, in this case, whale sharks,” he said.

The researchers used a modified version of a NASA algorithm developed to recognise star patterns to help identify the animals.

The technology allowed a scan of a photo to be matched with a previous photo.

Dr Norman said the white spot patterns over dark blue-grey are not unlike stars in the night sky.

“They do look like stars, it’s white spots against a dark background and they’re quite beautiful,” he said.

“We use the photo of the shark that I swam with or somebody swam with today and we compare that photo — now we’ve got thousands of photos in the photo ID library to see whether it’s a new shark or it’s one that’s been seen yesterday, last year or 10 years ago.

“This was sort of initiated at Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia but it’s been broadly taken up by researchers around the world and encouraging members of the public who might be swimming with whale sharks in Mozambique or Mexico or the Philippines to actually take that photo, submit it to an online database and then we’ll do the work to analyse it up and come up with the answers.”

Project tracking whale shark movements

Dr Norman, who is also the founder of the non-profit ECOCEAN organisation, said that whale sharks were not identified in scientific terms until the 19th Century, and that up until the 1980s, the number of recorded sightings was in the hundreds.

This is despite their long life span…

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