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article imageMonitoring whale strandings via satellites from space

By Tim Sandle     Oct 19, 2019 in Environment
New technology is being deployed to assess the extent of whale stranded on land and to enable local teams to help to return the mammals to the water. The technology remains in development, but the data is already revealing interesting patterns.
The technology has required a multi-disciplinary approach, drawing on the skills of engineers and marine biologists working for the British Antarctic Survey and several Chilean organisations, the BBC reports. The focus is with devising technology to count great whales from space. This has already provided data that suggests that the largest ever recorded mass stranding event was most likely an underestimation.
This record whale stranding event look place in 2015, across the emote beaches in Patagonia, Chile. The original assessment was that the carcasses of 343 sei whales were washed up. However, these numbers were assessed by survey teams working from planes and boats. Moreover, these data took several weeks to collate.
The sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis) is a baleen whale, the third-largest rorqual after the blue whale and the fin whale. While the cause of the record whale stranding was never clear, past red tides (blooms of toxic microorganisms) have been blamed for whale deaths in the region.
In order to develop greater accuracy, scientists have now concluded that through an analysis of high-resolution satellite images more accurate assessments can be made. This approach has been applied retrospectively to assess the 2015 incident, and this has revealed far more bodies. This is to the extent that the count was actually double that of original estimates. This has come about due to satellite imaging now being able to discern satellites now can see down to a precision of 30 centimeters.
The new approach and re-examination of the 2015 Chilean incident has been published in the PLoS One journal. The research article is titled "Using remote sensing to detect whale strandings in remote areas: The case of sei whales mass mortality in Chilean Patagonia."
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