Argentina: Scientists have demonstrated a new method for counting whales from space. It uses very high-resolution satellite pictures and image-processing software to automatically detect the great mammals at or near the ocean surface. A test count was recently conducted on southern right whales in the Golfo Nuevo on the coast of Argentina. The automated system found about 90% of creatures pinpointed in a manual search of the imagery. An automated satellite search could cover a much larger area of ocean and at a fraction of the cost.
"Our study is a proof of principle. But as the resolution of the satellites increases and our image analysis improves, we should be able to monitor many more species and in other types of location. It should be possible to do total population counts and in the future track the trajectory of those populations," said Peter Fretwell from the British Antarctic Survey. The breakthrough is in part down to the capability of the latest hi-res satellites. Mr Fretwell and colleagues used DigitalGlobe's WorldView-2 platform for their study, which is among the most powerful commercial Earth observation platforms in operation today, and can see surface features down to 50cm in size in its panchromatic mode.