A new technique for analysing satellite images may help scientists detect and count stranded whales from space. Researchers have reportedly tested a new detection method using Very High Resolution (VHR) satellite images from space tech company Maxar Technologies to come to the conclusion. They hope that the technique will lead to real-time information as stranding events happen in the future. This could revolutionize how stranded whales, that are dead in the water or beach, are detected in remote places.
The study has been published in the journal PLoS ONE by British Antarctic Survey and four Chilean research institutes.
At British Antarctic Survey, lead author Peter Fretwell told the media that it is an exciting development in monitoring whales from space as there is now a higher resolution 'window' on our planet. He added that satellite imagery may be a fast and cost-effective alternative to aerial surveys allowing the researchers to assess the extent of mass whale stranding events, especially in remote and inaccessible areas.
As per records of earlier incidents of stranded whales, over 340 whales — mostly from the sea — were stranded in a remote region of Chilean Patagonia in 2015. As per reports, the whales could not be discovered for several weeks owing to the remoteness of the region. Aerial and boat surveys assessed the extent of the mortality several months after discovery. Soon after the stranding events, more images were captured.
The recent development is expected to reduce such events. Researchers from the British Antarctic Survey and four Chilean research institutes studied the satellite images covering thousands of kilometers of coastline, which provided an early insight into the extent of the mortality. As quoted by them, they could identify the shape, size, and color of the whales, especially after several weeks when the animals turned pink and orange as they decomposed. Jennifer Jackson from British Antarctic Survey said that the causes of marine mammal strandings are poorly understood and therefore, information gathered helps understand how these events may be influenced by overall health, diet, environmental pollution, regional oceanography, social structures, and climate change. Jackson hoped that the new technique will become a useful tool in obtaining real-time information which will allow local authorities to intervene earlier and possibly help with conservation efforts.