Detecting Whale Aggregations from Space

Submitted by atripp on

Monitoring whales and seals is of broad interest to BOEM, academic institutions, commercial operations and other Federal entities. Advancements in very high resolution (VHR) satellite imagery, cloud computing and artificial intelligence (AI) have tremendous potential for developing an operational system to detect marine mammals worldwide. Recent research has demonstrated the feasibility of identifying whales from VHR satellite imagery with manual and machine learning approaches. In collaboration with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, the Naval Research Laboratory, and the British Antarctic Survey, BOEM has been exploring the development of an operational system to detect marine mammals from VHR imagery. Although the effort is still in the early stages, researchers hope to raise awareness within the research community and invite further information exchange.

Large volumes of VHR Maxar imagery over known seasonal aggregations of the North Atlantic right whale, the Cook Inlet beluga whale and bowhead whales in the Beaufort Sea were acquired from WorldView-3, WorldView-2 and GeoEye satellites. Explorations into satellite imagery formats and processing led to the decision to focus on using level 1A Standard GeoTIFFs projected in UTM and pansharpening after image acquisition. The team continues to explore different software platforms for image annotation. Imagery annotation in collaboration with Maxar's GeoHive platform could support development of a sizeable, standardized dataset of high-quality annotations to allow successful machine learning. Working closely with the Microsoft AI for Earth program, one goal is to develop marine mammal detection algorithms and cloud processing workflows. These efforts may lay the groundwork for future generations of scientists to have another tool in the toolbox as scientists and managers seek to understand and protect marine mammals worldwide.

WorldView-3 satellite image detections of four “definite” gray whales (top left), a “definite” fin whale (top right), two “definite” humpback whales (bottom left), and a “definite” Southern right whale (bottom right). Adapted from “Whales from space: Four mysticete species (baleen whales) described using new VHR satellite imagery,” by Hannah Cubaynes et al, 2018.


Author Name
Timothy White
Author Email