Scientists are deploying satellites to monitor whale strandings from space

Back in 2015, Chile saw one of the largest mass mortality of baleen whales in recorded history, tallying at least 343 whales. But the remote location of the stranding meant that it went unreported for weeks, after which whales went missing and decomposition made it hard to determine how the whales died.

To spot the stranded whales faster, scientists have begun using satellites that can produce high-resolution imagery to monitor whale strandings from space, according to a new study. Now you might be asking: why would you need to spot whales that have already perished and washed up on the shore?

For marine conservationists, the answer is rather simple: the quicker you get to the whale, the better chance you have to discover what led the whales to their untimely deaths. Understanding how the whales died is crucial to developing ways to protect other whales from suffering the same fate.

The new study represents a first step in using satellites for tracking whale strandings, but there’s work yet to be done. Manually scanning satellite images is time-consuming, and researchers hope to eventually employ machine learning techniques to pick whale corpses out of the images. Still, the researchers hope satellite imagery will help to paint a clearer picture of whale stranding problems around the world.

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