Studying Whales from Space

Satellites help researchers count populations

Feb 13, 2014
Outside Magazine

The old way to track whales: Stand on the bridge of a ship and count. The new way: Use a satellite to count them from space.

In a paper published Wednesday in the journal PLOS One, Peter Fretwell of the British Antarctic Survey argues that tracking the right whale from space is a more efficient alternative to the old way.

"Satellite imagery provides much more accurate and wider coverage," Fretwell told the Los Angeles Times. "If this works, we can take it out to many other species as well."

So far, one satellite has spotted 55 right whales chillin' in the ocean off the coast of Argentina, reports.

A satellite image is not just a snapshot—the technology allows scientists to see as far as 50 feet below the ocean's surface. Researchers were able to see 55 probable whales and 22 possible whales. They also saw 13 whale shapes underwater, according to the L.A. Times.

Even though researchers admit that sometimes what might look like a whale is actually a big rock, they hope advancements in satellite technology will improve the way whale populations and other species are counted.

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