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Detection of whales from space using high resolution satellite imagery


Marine mammals are chronically understudied due to their vast distributions and novel methods to improve knowledge on marine mammal populations are of great importance to conservation. Advances in technology have allowed for the deployment of satellites that collect imagery at very high-resolution (~30cm) capable of detecting whales from space. This method has the potential to improve spatial and temporal coverage and reduce disturbance of marine mammal monitoring to supplement traditional methods of detection such as aerial, ship-based, or acoustic platforms.


Cody’s PhD research will focus on developing and assessing satellite imagery as a method to detect and count whale populations from space with emphasis on the endangered North Atlantic right whale. The extensive monitoring of the North Atlantic right whale in the Gulf of St. Lawrence by vessel, aircraft and acoustic platforms can be used to compare with satellite imagery acquired from the region to understand how satellite imagery can improve whale monitoring. Right whales also occupy a large range of habitats in the Northwest Atlantic ocean where they display various behaviours and experience varying environmental conditions. This project will investigate how these varying environmental and behavioural factors impact the detection of whales by satellite imagery.


Cody’s project will also contribute to the Canada Space Agency-funded SmartWhales research consortium working to improve whale detection technology, especially real-time detection technology to facilitate adaptive management by government attempting to mitigate human impacts on right whales from the fishing and shipping industries.


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