WCA partner Happywhale engages citizen scientists to identify marine mammals for fun and for science. From naturalists to whale watchers, Happywhale gives the wider public a chance to take images and use them to help build our understanding of the movements of individual whales.
It’s simple; naturalists, guides, passengers take photos while out on the water, they submit those photos to Happywhale online and they use cutting edge image processing algorithms to match photos with scientific collections, tracking individual whales as they move through our oceans.
The algorithms are looking for distinctive and unique markings on whales bodies, flukes and dorsal fins that allow them to recognise individuals. It is a method that has been used for years by researchers. The new technology and efficiency opens up the technique to photos taken by whale watchers worldwide.While the majority of individual whales in Happywhale’s database are humpback whales, the technology and technique can and does work for other species.
However to get accurate matches the images still need to be of a certain quality and taken at suitable angles for the algorithm to pick up unique features. This includes getting the right angle showing the lateral body and dorsal fin, images showing the underside and not topside of humpback whale flukes and the head of right whales. In an exciting new development Happywhale are excited to share a new whale photo identification guide produced in collaboration with the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and Southern Ocean Research Project (SORP) Australian Antarctic Division. The guide is intended to inspire and improve citizen science participation in Southern Ocean whale science. The guide provides advice and tips on taking photographs that will help with individual identification of a whale encountered.
It is hoped that with this guide more images of whales in the southern oceans could be matched, providing further understanding of individual whale movements and populations in this part of the world.