International whale shark research program uses NASA algorithm to identify, Monitor animals
An worldwide research project monitoring whale sharks has been commended as a collaboration using ‘citizen science’ and NASA engineering.
The project relied upon people sending in photographs, taken over several years in areas.
Author and Murdoch University Associate Doctor Bradley Norman explained the data gained helped track the whale sharks.
“A terrific example of citizen mathematics at which members of the public can play an extremely positive and active part in monitoring our wildlife, in this scenario, whale sharks,” he said.
The researchers used a modified version of a NASA algorithm designed to recognise star patterns to help identify the critters.
The technology allowed a scan of a photograph to be paired with a prior picture.
Dr Norman explained the spot patterns over aren’t unlike stars in the nighttime sky.
“They do seem like stars, it’s white stains against a dark backdrop and they’re quite beautiful,” he said.
“This pattern is similar to a fingerprint, it’s unique to each person. Without even touching them so we are really tagging the whale sharks.
“We use the photo of the shark that I swam together or somebody swam with now and we compare that photo — today we have got tens of thousands of photographs in the picture ID library to find out whether it’s a fresh shark or it’s one that has been observed yesterday, last year or 10 years back.
“This was kind of initiated in Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia but it’s been consumed by researchers around the world and encouraging members of those who may be swimming with whale sharks in Mozambique or Mexico or the Philippines to really take that picture, submit it into an online database and then we will do the job to analyse this up and come up with the answers.”
Project monitoring whale shark movements
Dr Norman, who is also the creator of the non-profit ECOCEAN firm, said that whale sharks weren’t diagnosed in conditions which up until the 1980s, the number of documented sightings had been in the hundreds.
That is despite their life span — it’s estimated that they can live for more than 100 years.
The project has helped ascertain that the spot patterns are long-lasting.
The researchers have also managed to identify several previously unidentified ‘aggregation sites’ around the world, with a few of the sharks and between nations.
They also discovered that whale sharks seem to be outnumbered, with an estimate that there are just two whale sharks for every single female.
Dr Norman said the purpose of the research is to focus on conservation.
“It is bringing space technology down into the ground and helping an endangered species.
“Western Australia’s official marine symbol but it’s also an endangered species, so it’s really important that people gather as much info on the species as possible to help with their long-term conservation.
“There has been a bit of talk about what’s the collective term for whale sharks also it seems to make perfect sense to predict them constellations.”
Dr Norman stated the challenge was to locate the whale sharks’ breeding grounds.
The findings have been released at the BioScience journal, which has created the report online.