Scientists Use New Technology to Count Whale Population from Space

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By Parismita Goswami | February 13, 2014 10:12 PM EST

Scientists have demonstrated how the population of the whales can be counted, using a new satellite technique.

The method uses image-processing software and high-resolution satellite images to automatically detect whales lolling near or at the ocean surface. The automated system found 90 percent of this creature in a manual imagery search.

STRINGER/ARGENTINA/REUTERS/Max
Scientists Use New Technology to Count Whale Population from Space

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The new technology is a huge improvement on earlier attempts and could revolutionize the way the great mammal's populations are estimated.

At present, whale population count is conducted from shores, ships or airplanes. But these are necessarily time consuming, expensive and - most importantly - not accurate. But automated satellite imagery is expected provide wider and more accurate results.

"Our study is a proof of principle. But as the resolution of the satellites increases and our image analysis improves, we should be able to monitor many more species and in other types of location", BBC News quoted Peter Fretwell, British Antarctic Survey in a statement.

The test was conducted in a 113-sq-km area of the Golfo Nuevo, off the Argentine coast, an area where southern right whales breed. Researchers spotted 55 whales, 23 possible whales and 13 whale-shaped creatures.

"In this type of automated analysis you have to balance two types of errors - errors where you miss whales, and errors where you misidentify whales. If you push too hard one way, like trying to catch all the whales, you'll increase the number of false positives. With our 90 percent, we had almost no misidentifications," added Fretwell.

The details of the study have been published in Plos One Journal.

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(Photo: STRINGER/ARGENTINA/REUTERS/Max / )
Scientists Use New Technology to Count Whale Population from Space
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