Today’s Solutions: May 19, 2022

The Wildbook for Whale Sharks uses an advanced algorithm to scan images of sharks and compare them to thousands of archived photos to track populations, but the technology was not initially intended for use in our oceans. The system was first developed by NASA to map stars in the sky with the Hubble Telescope, but thanks to researcher Brad Norman, it has found new conservation applications.

Working with Murdoch University, Norman identified that the same technology used to map out stars could also be used to identify the unique markings on sharks. Whale sharks in particular have distinctive markings on their skin making no two sharks identical. Once the algorithm was adjusted, Norman called on researchers and citizen scientists all around the world to begin capturing photos of whale sharks with a marked location to better track populations.

So far, over 10,000 people from over 50 countries have uploaded images to the online database. When a shark is re-photographed, its image and location are compared to existing data to identify it or log it as a new shark, almost like fingerprints.

Whale sharks are an especially endangered species. Climate change and overfishing have caused their numbers to drop 50 percent in the past 75 years. Fortunately, the new database allows researchers to better monitor populations, and the involvement of everyday citizens in the process helps raise awareness about the dangers the species is facing to promote conservation.

This story is part of our ‘Best of 2021’ series highlighting our top solutions from the year. Today we’re featuring science solutions.

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