The race is on to spy on Canada’s whales from space & More Trending News


Scientists on Canada’s coasts are exploring the usage of satellites to surveil whales and different ocean “megafauna” to higher monitor and defend at-risk ocean species.

The speedy advance of very high-resolution (VHR) satellite tv for pc imagery and dropping prices are offering conservationists with alternatives to find, depend and monitor wildlife and their vital habitat from the cosmos. The method is particularly useful in distant areas or expanses of ocean which are tough for scientists to entry.

In October, University of Ottawa researchers had been the primary to determine a selected endangered North Atlantic proper whale (NARW) utilizing satellite tv for pc pictures. Newly accessible high-resolution pictures, together with best climate circumstances, confirmed the big, distinctive white scar on the again of a whale named Ruffian, one of many roughly 336 critically endangered whales.

This newest analysis benchmark is a part of the goodWhale undertaking — a big federal initiative launched in 2021 by the Canadian Space Agency and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) together with Transport Canada to advance the usage of satellite tv for pc information and pc algorithms to detect, monitor and defend proper whales.

VHR satellite tv for pc imagery is additionally being explored to detect and estimate beluga, narwhal and presumably even walrus populations within the Arctic as a part of the Space Whales and Arctic Marine Mammals (SWAMM) program — the opposite giant initiative at present underway in Canada.

A complete of 292 beluga whales and 109 narwhals had been detected after analyzing 12 VHR pictures taken in August 2017 and 2019 by the WorldView-3 satellite tv for pc of two areas close to Baffin Island frequented by belugas through the summer season.

A wave of curiosity is additionally rising on the B.C. coast to make use of space know-how to detect and defend giant at-risk ocean species, together with blue, fin, gray and humpback whales and endangered basking sharks, mentioned Rebecca Martone, govt director for the Ocean Decade Collaborative Centre Northeast Pacific Region.

Pacific Coast researchers are eager to use satellites to research endangered ocean species such because the basking shark, says Rebecca Martone, of the NE Pacific Ocean Decade Collaborative Centre. Submitted photograph

DFO and the Ocean Decade centre held a two-day webinar and workshop in the beginning of November to discover the feasibility and potential use of satellite tv for pc information within the area, Martone mentioned.

VHR satellite tv for pc imagery is an vital complement to conventional surveys from shore or with plane, drones, hydrophones or boats to higher perceive at-risk species and their actions throughout huge areas to enhance their survival and restoration, she mentioned.

Canadian researchers are actively exploring satellites as a manner to monitor whales and different at-risk ocean creatures from space. #SpaceTech #Conservation #Biodiversity #COP15 #SpeciesAtRisk

Whale populations on the Pacific coast don’t group collectively and are unfold throughout giant areas, Martone mentioned.

“It helps to have every kind of tool in your toolkit to be able to find them.”

The know-how’s use isn’t restricted to whale detection. It is also used to monitor marine protected areas or do assessments and handle dangers equivalent to transport lanes or oil spills, she added.

The concept to use satellite tv for pc imagery to detect whales surfaced 20 years in the past, however the decision of the accessible pictures initially wasn’t adequate. That modified when the U.S. allowed industrial satellite tv for pc picture corporations to produce greater high quality pictures in 2014. The profitable identification of southern proper whales in Argentinian waters with satellite tv for pc pictures occurred quickly after.

The worth of satellites to perceive whales additionally isn’t restricted to monitoring the residing.

Studies have showcased how satellites may help find, assess and maybe even stop whale strandings in remoted areas. Space pictures had been used to study the loss of life of 350 sei whales that washed ashore in Chile’s Patagonia area in early 2015 — the most important baleen whale mass stranding ever recorded.

Understanding why and the place whale strandings happen, particularly if they’re repeated or contain giant numbers, is important for researchers. It helps determine and forestall persistent human-caused threats equivalent to ship strikes or air pollution, or bigger climatic or ecosystem issues, such because the poisonous algal blooms triggered by warming waters that triggered the sei whale mortality occasion.

On the brighter aspect, satellite tv for pc imagery may also uncover unknown scorching spots of at-risk species. One stellar instance concerned researchers taking a look at NASA pictures for enormous guano stains that in the end revealed hidden colonies of 1.5 million Adélie penguins on the Danger Islands north of the Antarctic Peninsula.

There are nonetheless limiting components to the know-how, however most are probably to enhance as advances proceed apace, Martone mentioned.

Images and information downloads from space don’t happen in dwell time, nor are industrial satellites able to homing in on small particulars or figuring out options, as Hollywood spy motion pictures recommend.

Detecting whales or basking sharks within the Pacific Northwest, with its mercurial climate, may be compromised by cloud cowl, solar glint, heavy waves and poor water readability, or floating particles equivalent to logs and rafts of seaweed.

The decision of most pictures is additionally nonetheless too low to clearly distinguish between totally different whale species of comparable measurement form equivalent to gray, humpback and fin whales that co-exist in the identical waters, Martone mentioned. And animals that aren’t shut to the floor of the water are harder to detect or determine.

Eleven satellites at present seize pictures of Canada, that are distributed by means of 4 main industrial picture corporations. Generally, the perfect imagery has a spatial decision of 30 centimetres, which means it captures particulars which are larger than or equal to 30-cm sq..

But Worldview-3 satellite tv for pc imagery can now be sharpened or enhanced to 15 cm, a function anticipated to permit researchers to distinguish between some kinds of whales and even explicit people, such because the identification of Ruffian the best whale. It’s anticipated that 10-cm decision pictures may be accessible in 2024, Martone mentioned.

Aerial {photograph} of Ruffian, a North Atlantic proper whale vs a satellite tv for pc picture. Photo courtesy of University of Ottawa/ Canadian Space Agency

Examining a number of pictures manually is extraordinarily time consuming for researchers, she mentioned. Work is underway worldwide to develop algorithms and machine studying to robotically sift by means of and detect totally different marine mammals in giant datasets of satellite tv for pc pictures.

Under the federal goodWhale undertaking, $5.3 million was divided up between 5 tech corporations and whale analysis groups to develop programs for 2 functions: to detect and monitor North Atlantic proper whales and predict or mannequin their actions to defend them from vessel collisions or entanglement in fishing gear.

Finding sufficient various pictures of a person whale species to use as enter to prepare a detection system may be difficult, Martone mentioned.

No system to date can differentiate between particular kinds of whales, which means researchers would nonetheless want to examine flagged pictures to determine which species of whales on the Pacific Coast had been captured.

VHR satellite tv for pc imagery may be cheaper and safer when surveying distant Arctic areas or the open oceans, but it surely’s nonetheless pricey to purchase pictures at a big scale for non-government organizations, teachers, First Nations or growing nations.

But costs for satellite tv for pc imagery are dropping, and scientists can goal areas and dates that may supply helpful pictures, equivalent to whales’ breeding grounds, for good inhabitants counts or purchase helpful archival pictures at decreased costs.

Endangered Pacific basking sharks are a really perfect for a pilot undertaking utilizing satellite tv for pc imagery to research ocean creatures on the Pacific coast, Martone mentioned.

The sharks, that are believed to migrate to B.C. waters from California in the summertime, may be 12 metres lengthy. Their measurement and grey-brown color, which contrasts nicely with the ocean, together with their behavior of spending quite a lot of time lounging on the floor of the water makes them good candidates for satellite tv for pc monitoring.

The slow-moving giants are not often noticed, Martone mentioned, with solely 37 confirmed sightings between 1996 and 2018. There’s little information to inform safety efforts, with estimates suggesting solely 321 to 535 basking sharks may ply Canada’s Pacific waters.

“It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack,” Martone mentioned.

Satellites can cowl extra of the sharks’ open ocean habitat, rising the chance of recognizing them and studying extra about them, she added.

“Spying on them from space can …help make sure their population is recovering.”

Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

The race is on to spy on Canada’s whales from space

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