People often ask our team, what has motivated you to put so much effort into developing this project? The answer that immediately comes to mind is that we want to make data freely to not only scientist but also to people interested in cetaceans around the world. Many of our team members have worked in academia. We appreciate the importance of the research done in academic institutions but have learned that data is often too tightly guarded and held until it can be published. This process far too often takes years and given the rapidly natural changing world we feel sharing data as fast as possible is in the best interest of the planet. We feel one unique and important aspect of our project is to share our adventure and research with the world on open source platforms.
Why open science?
« Ocean don’t have borders nor do marine mammals »
Because marine mammals are migratory species, surprisingly little is known about them. By sharing openly our data and making them accessible to researchers and people worldwide we hope to increase awareness of the importance of emblematic species.
Let’s take an example with the blue whale, the largest animal on earth.
Despite their massive size, the migration routes of blue whales and repoductive behaviors remain elusive. In the North Atlantic one of the 5 subtypes B. m. musculus ranges from Davis Strait to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Nova Scotia. This subspecies has also been photographed off Iceland and the Azores. Whether there is one North Atlantic population or two (eastern and western) remains an open question.
« If we can quickly track individuals in a population, we can model size and migration to generate new insights and support rapid, data-driven conservation action ».
With photo identification and the use of artificial intelligence program like Flukebook that can recognize individual whales, we hope to begin to build a catalogue which can answer these question. With the help of other boaters and photographers around the very big blue ocean who have access to our open source information, we feel these questions can be answers. A link to the scientific methods we use to catalogue our sighting can be found in this article.
How does Flukebook work?
Flukebook is a powerful program that can help make whale watching more educational for an average whale watcher. When a photographer submits a fluke photo, Flukebook will look for picture matches of dolphins and whales across hundreds of thousands of pictures. If a marine mammal is matched, it will send a message to the researcher who submitted the original photo that a match has been found. People who submit photos can also choose on Flukebook to receive a notice if their whale is matched and get to learn a bit more about what they observed.
Using an artificial intelligence platform is new in the marine biology field and we think it is a clever way to work faster and with more accuracy as the work to match individual takes lots of time and good visual skills. Many scientists still use drawing or Photo ID program like Darwin, Flukematch or even excel to create their catalogues. Flukebook use algorithms and give to every whale his own footprint. After a few minutes, the pictures are automatically compared to the pictures in the catalogues and if a match is found it is validated but the scientific community.
Artificial intelligence in acoustic
As powerful as visual fluke mapping is, we don’t want to limit our ability to identify whale to a visual sighting. We will also use acoustic methods to identify individual whale and pods (families). We have chosen the ear to the wild platform because we feel it is accessible to most individuals. This system uses an affordable microphone and cell phone-based application that will be able to identify all types of animals by their songs. Its a tool that nature lovers and land and sea can use to learn more about the natural would. It too can be described as an intelligent program because it listens to the recording and compares it to existing recordings to determine species information. With cetaceans, we are working with the developers to refine their algorithms to identify specific pods of whales!
Other App to record your sightings:
We will also partner with the ROMM and will publish our data on St Lawrence Global Observatory SLGO. It is the first integrated ocean observing system in Canada.
Its concept makes it possible to maximize the benefits of data collection by integrating multidisciplinary data from multiple partners on a single web portal, thus promoting data discovery and re-use.
Happy whale and Obis seamap also seems to be good platforms to share your pictures, do you know other?