Feb 14, 2014

Whale spotting from SPACE: Conservationists now using satellites to keep tabs on the world's whale population

Estimated Article Reading Time: 2 min.

(By Victoria Woollaston, Dailymail). High-tech satellites orbiting 480 miles above Earth are being used for an unusual task – to keep tabs on the movement of whales.

Conservationists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) have developed a way of using the space technology to count how many of the mammals are currently living in our seas.

The satellites, including the WorldView2, take photos of the sea, which are then studied using state-of-the-art software to identify whales below the surface.
The images are so detailed, each shot uses 2.5GB of computer space – 1,300 times more than the average iPhone photo

Researchers from BAS hope the new method of counting could help efforts to save the endangered animals.

They chose the Earth observation satellite WorldView2, owned by DigitalGlobe, because it has a maximum resolution of 50cm.

It also has what’s called a ‘water penetrating coastal band’ in the far-blue part of the camera’s spectrum meaning it can see deeper into the ocean.

The technology has been successfully tested to count southern right whales in the Golfo Nuevo, off the coast of Argentina, and it is hoped the scheme will be rolled out globally.

Peter Fretwell, from BAS, led the research. He said: ‘Whale populations have always been difficult to assess – traditional means of counting them are localised, expensive and lack accuracy.

‘The ability to count whales automatically, over large areas in a cost effective way will be of great benefit to conservation efforts.’

Exact whale populations are unknown but there has been a noticeable increase in the number of southern right calves dying.

Earth observation satellites, including the WorldView2, (pictured above) begin by taking photographs of the sea.
Each frame is scanned and studied using state-of-the-art software to identify whales below the surface.
WorldView2 is an Earth observation satellite, owned by DigitalGlobe, that has a maximum resolution of 50 cm.
It also has what’s called a ‘water penetrating coastal band’ in the far-blue part of the camera’s spectrum meaning it can see deeper into the ocean.
The images are so detailed, each shot uses 2.5GB of computer space – 1,300 times more than the average iPhone photo.

Images of whales are being taken by satellites 480 miles above Earth
The British Antarctic Survey is using these satellites to photograph the sea
Researchers then use state-of-the-art software to study each frame
Photos are so detailed they identify individual whales below the surface
Technology has been used to count southern right whales in Argentina

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