(ORDO NEWS) — Identifying a specific animal, albeit gigantic in size, in an image taken from a height of several thousand kilometers is not a trivial task at all.
But a group of Canadian scientists still succeeded. Now conservationists can use the new technology to monitor critically endangered northern right whales.
There are only 336 northern right whales ( Eubalaena glacialis ). Despite a complete ban on hunting them since 1970, their numbers have hardly increased, perhaps due to extremely slow breeding rates, deadly ship encounters and entanglement in fishing nets.
Tracking the location of the animals will allow scientists and conservationists to warn passing ships in time and regulate the access of fishing vessels to this area in order to avoid accidental death of the whale.
Now researchers have a new way to detect endangered whales: satellite photos with a spatial resolution of just 15 centimeters (in other words, each pixel of the photo is a surface area measuring 15 by 15 centimeters).
This is much higher than the resolution of photographs obtained as part of the Google Earth project , and allows not only to clearly distinguish northern right whales from other species, such as fin whales, but also to identify a specific animal if it has noticeable external differences.
A group of researchers from the University of Ottawa (Canada), comparing aerial photographs with images obtained from space, was able to identify for the first time a specific whale named Ruffian (translated from English ruffian – “hooligan”) due to noticeable injuries that he received in 2008, entangled in networks.
A long-standing incident left a large white scar on Ruffian’s back, and scientists were able to spot a whale with the exact same scar on satellite images.
The study lasted several months: from April to the end of summer 2021, aerial photography and satellite imagery were conducted in parallel.
Scientists sought to ensure that, by comparing the two images, it was possible to isolate clear signs of the right whale in a photograph from space.
In the future, when the information base of animals is compiled, it will be possible to identify the necessary individuals on satellite images already without aerial photography. This, in turn, will make it possible to observe the migration of animals in vast areas of the ocean.
Now scientists will be able not only to monitor the movement of whales for their conservation, but also to identify features of their biology, for example, by determining where northern right whales swim in the summer and autumn months, disappearing from coastal waters.
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