Arctic Narwhals And Beluga Whales Can Be Detected And Monitored From Space


Narwhal individuals detected from panchromatic WorldView-3 satellite images at a 1:265 scale. Republished under a CC BY license, with permission from Maxar Technologies, original copyright 2017 and 2019. CREDIT DigitalGlobe, Inc

Emergence of new technologies in remote sensing give scientists a new way to detect and monitor wildlife populations.

In this study we assess the ability to detect and classify two emblematic Arctic cetaceans, the narwhal (Monodon monoceros) and beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas), using very high-resolution (VHR) satellite imagery. We analyzed 12 VHR images acquired in August 2017 and 2019, collected by the WorldView-3 satellite, which has a maximum resolution of 0.31 m per pixel.

The images covered Clearwater Fiord (138.8 km2), an area on eastern Baffin Island, Canada where belugas spend a large part of the summer, and Tremblay Sound (127.0 km2), a narrow water body located on the north shore of Baffin Island that is used by narwhals during the open water season. A total of 292 beluga whales and 109 narwhals were detected in the images. This study contributes to our understanding of Arctic cetacean distribution and highlights the capabilities of using satellite imagery to detect marine mammals.

Mapping Arctic cetaceans from space: A case study for beluga and narwhal, PLOS

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