Friday, 13 February 2015

New cameras allow scientists to better track grey whales

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Scientists that track grey whale migrations along the western coast of North America are always looking for more efficient ways to track their subjects and a new set of thermal imaging cameras could help them do just that.

The new system, being used by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is configured to capture the heat release by whales as a part of their natural physiology.

“A whale is this great big motor that takes in a breath of air and holds it inside for a long time,” said Wayne Perryman, a NOAA Fisheries scientist who helped develop the new system. “When it exhales, the air is much warmer than the background, and we can detect that difference very easily, both day and night.”

The infrared cameras used by the system are the same ones that police use when looking for suspects from the air. The NOAA system uses new software that automatically evaluates the video to recognize when a whale blows out air. To achieve that, it has to differentiate the blow of a whale from other signals, such as a small boat moving into the field of view.

“The biggest challenge was getting the detector to be as accurate as possible without having it get fooled by false alarms,” said Dave Weller, the NOAA Fisheries scientist who leads the survey team.

The system computer also anticipates when and where an indentified whale will rise to the surface to blow again. An algorithm, which is derived from years of study into gray whale diving behavior, enables the computer to track individual whales.


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