Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Scientists Using Holiday Snaps to Identify Whale Sharks


Feb. 8, 2013 — Holidaymakers' photos could help scientists track the movements of giant endangered sharks living in the waters of the Indian Ocean. A new study, led by a researcher from Imperial College London, is the first to show that these publically sourced photographs are suitable for use in conservation work.

Tourists scuba diving and snorkelling in the Maldives frequently take underwater pictures of the spectacular and docile whale shark, often called the world's largest fish. Conservationists have long hoped to use this photographic resource to help them trace the sharks' life history, relationships and geographic distribution, although the value of these amateur snapshots has never been properly measured.

Tim Davies of Imperial's Department of Life Sciences is the lead author on a study published in Wildlife Research, the first to examine how reliable photographs sourced from the public actually are. He and his team did this by comparing results using tourist images with results based on surveys by marine researchers specifically aiming to track the sharks.

In order for a shark to be clearly identified, any photograph must capture the distinctive pattern of spots located directly behind the gills. This unique marking serves as a 'fingerprint', which can then be scanned with a computer programme to tell the animals apart.

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