NASA know-how may help save whale sharks says Australian marine biologist and ECOCEAN founder, Brad Norman

NASA know-how may help save whale sharks says Australian marine biologist and ECOCEAN founder, Brad Norman

To assist shield the species, Australian marine biologist Brad Norman co-founded The Wildbook for Whale Sharks, a photograph identification database that went on-line in 2003.

Members of the general public, scientists and whale shark tour operators all over the world contribute images of whale sharks to the system, which makes use of NASA know-how to map their areas and monitor their actions. Right this moment, the database holds over 70,000 submissions from greater than 50 nations — making it one of many greatest crowd-sourced conservation initiatives on the planet.

Regardless of their imposing measurement — whale sharks can develop as much as 20 meters (65 ft) lengthy — these light giants do not pose a hazard to swimmers. Feeding on plankton and tiny marine organisms, they cruise at a leisurely most of three miles per hour, permitting snorkelers and divers to rise up shut.

Norman has been finding out these charismatic creatures for over 25 years. He first swam with a whale shark within the turquoise waters of Ningaloo reef on Western Australia’s northern coast. “It was some of the wonderful experiences I’ve ever had,” he remembers. “I will always remember it.”

Marine biologist Brad Norman photographing a whale shark.

That whale shark — nicknamed Stumpy due to his deformed tail — was the primary entry in a photo-identification library that Norman created in 1995. The library, later operated by Norman’s conservation group ECOCEAN, turned the muse of The Wildbook for Whale Sharks.
Learn: She filmed sharks for ‘Jaws’ – then she devoted her life to defending them

A sluggish swimmer, Stumpy is comparatively simple to maintain up with, says Norman. “I see him almost yearly and … I believe ‘G’day mate, the way you goin’?”

Since that first encounter, Norman has swum with whale sharks on 1000’s of events — and says he nonetheless will get a buzz out of it each time.

Why NASA tech works for whale sharks

Pictures submitted to The Wildbook for Whale Sharks are analysed by an algorithm that scans the spots and stripes on the animal’s pores and skin, that are as distinctive as a human fingerprint, says Norman. The algorithm identifies the shark by looking out the database for an identical sample.

Whale sharks are recognized by the markings on their pores and skin.

Tailored from know-how first developed for NASA’s Hubble Area Telescope program, the algorithm works for whale sharks as a result of their pores and skin markings type patterns much like stars within the evening sky.

Norman says that collectively, the information on whale shark areas and migration routes informs selections on administration methods for habitat safety. “I can solely be in a single place one at one time,” he says. “It is so necessary to have members of the general public aiding with our challenge.”

Is swimming with whale sharks good for them?

Norman says he would “encourage anyone that will get the chance to swim with a whale shark.”

However extra boats, snorkelers and divers in whale shark areas may very well be problematic. Norman cautions that impression on the sharks have to be minimized.

In Western Australia, whale shark tour operators are strictly regulated with limits on the numbers of individuals and licensed vessels within the water close to the animals at anyone time — and a share of gross sales going in direction of whale shark trade administration.

Nevertheless, regulation and enforcement are weaker in different places.

Within the Maldives, whale sharks are a well-liked attraction however authorities tips designed to guard the sharks from harassment are often breached. This will trigger stress for the animals, whereas boat collision accidents can impression their improvement and talent to journey lengthy distances.
Whale sharks within the Philippines are routinely supplied with meals to draw them to locations the place guests can simply see them. This will change the sharks’ diving patterns and metabolism, whereas a excessive stage of scarring signifies elevated boat strikes. The crowding from vacationer exercise and feeding can even result in coral reef degradation.

However the place whale shark tourism is practiced responsibly, it may assist save the species. Norman hopes to see extra knowledge assortment all over the world, plugging info gaps and strengthening conservation efforts. He is searching for what he calls “the Holy Grail” — discovering out the place the whale sharks go to mate. Defending their breeding grounds is the “one large factor” wanted to avoid wasting the species in the long term, he says. The assistance of 1000’s of citizen scientists provides him a greater probability of creating that potential.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *