Space technology and artificial intelligence to monitor massive whale strandings

Space technology and artificial intelligence to monitor massive whale strandings

Credit: Penny Clarke

An international team of scientists led by the British Antarctic Survey today published research on the use of new technology to study massive whale strandings from space and how the technology could be used to help protect populations.

The study, published in Frontiers in marine sciences, found that high-resolution satellite imagery could help set up long-term monitoring programs for cetacean strandings (i.e. whales, dolphins and porpoises) in the regions remote and stranding networks on a global scale. The team behind the study includes scientists from the British Antarctic Survey, CEAZA (Center for Advanced Research in Arid Zones), Oceanswell and Massey University.

Whale strandings are becoming a critical problem for the health of the oceans and there is an urgent need to increase the capacity to monitor and understand strandings. The World Health Organization recently announced its “One Health” approach, which recognizes ocean conditions that impact whales often affect the marine ecosystem, with potential ramifications for human health as well. Leading marine mammal experts have made the response to whale strandings one of the three main goals of the World Marine Mammal Conference in 2019.

Research envisions making satellites a viable long-term monitoring tool, especially for locations where stranding response capacity is very limited and surveys are infrequent. For remote areas, satellites could serve as an ‘early response’ tool, alerting managers to a problem and enabling an appropriate response, which could increase the likelihood of obtaining useful diagnostic samples to understand exactly what is causing the problem. these events.

Penny Clarke, lead author of the study and Ph.D. A researcher from the British Antarctic Survey said: “This study reveals that we need to increase monitoring of mass strandings around the world to better understand cetacean populations, threats they face and assess the impact of future changes. This is especially important in remote areas. regions, without stranding monitoring networks, where satellites offer the possibility of collecting baseline data in these regions. “

Space technology and artificial intelligence to monitor massive whale strandings

Example of whale stranding observations on satellite images. Credit: Maxar Technologies

Dr Jennifer Jackson, whale biologist at the British Antarctic Survey, said: “As whale populations recover from whaling and experience the increasing impacts of humans and climate change, we need new tools to monitor these impacts, especially in remote areas. promise to help monitor these strandings over large areas, as well as examine local sea conditions, help identify causes more quickly and make the right recommendations for ocean protection and management . “

Dr Asha de Vos, Founder and Executive Director of Oceanswell in Sri Lanka, said: “Strandings occur on all of our coasts, but not all of us are equipped to monitor or document these events. Satellites give us a unique opportunity to monitor even the most remote places, but the key is to increase access. If we are truly to understand and protect our planet, we must ensure equitable access to the tools that can help us solve our greatest challenges together.

The team analyzed satellite images collected from Golfo de Penas, Chile in 2019, an area of ​​massive strandings that recur every year and the location of the largest known massive baleen whale stranding in 2015. The results show the power of satellites to infer the timing of events, which could be vital for long-term monitoring programs.

The international team hopes to challenge the current disparity in stranding monitoring efforts through the use of satellites. They also call for collaborative partnerships between satellite providers and stranding networks, governments and NGOs, for equal access to satellite imagery, a recommendation endorsed by the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission.

The research highlights the importance of collaboration between remote sensing specialties to determine whether satellites can help understand environmental and human conditions before, during and after a mass stranding. Other remote sensing data could help highlight changes in the ocean environment and provide an early warning system to mitigate massive strandings and develop better informed, better informed and better-informed stranding networks. faster.

Going forward, the team plans to test the robustness of this technology by partnering with existing and effective stranding networks in sensitive areas, such as New Zealand, to develop work protocols and procedures. automated detection. Then, they will focus on remote priority sites such as: the Chilean Patagonia region; much of the western and eastern coasts of Africa; the polar regions; and the coasts in politically turbulent regions such as the northwest Indian Ocean.

Stranded whales detected from space

More information:
Penny J. Clarke et al, Cetacean Strandings From Space: Challenges and Opportunities of Very High Resolution Satellites for the Remote Monitoring of Cetacean Mass Strandings, Frontiers in marine sciences (2021). DOI: 10.3389 / fmars.2021.650735

Provided by British Antarctic Survey

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