Whale sharks might be the largest fish in the ocean but nonetheless, they are the least understood creature of their kind. Marine biologists barely have any information on the whale sharks migration patterns, their global hotspots, breeding sites, or if they follow a seasonal food source. The animal is getting closer and closer to extinction and the lack of information about the species prevents scientists from being able to develop conservation strategies to save them
Good News Network writes “Now a new citizen science project utilizes the Hubble’s “Groth” algorithm—normally used for identifying individual stars in the universe—to map photographed-whale sharks’ spotted patterns, of which no two are alike, and therefore effectively act like a fingerprint.”
Brad Norman a marine biologist at Western Australia’s Murdoch University is using the algorithm as the “brain” of a new photographic database of the sharks called Wildbook for Whale Sharks. It’s the biggest one ever collected. The library consists of individually identified sharks. Anyone can access and contribute to it.
The team behind the database can track where each one of the Whale Sharks travels, breeds and likes to stay thanks to the spot behind the fish’s fins which is unique to each individual.
Dr Norman said in a statement:
“At the start it was just me taking photos of whale sharks at Ningaloo, but we needed more than one lonely researcher to collect enough data over an extended period. And, because tourists were constantly swimming with whale sharks too, why not enlist their support?”
“I was fortunate to team up with two brilliant scientists, software guru Jason Holmberg and NASA astrophysicist Zaven Arzoumanian, to develop a user-friendly database where anyone, anywhere can upload their own images of whale sharks.”
Jason Holmberg, the brain behind the idea to use Hubble’s Groth algorithm to save the sharks told NASA “We’re talking about an animal considered to be rare, maybe a couple of hundred documented sightings in all of history,”
The library now contains more than 76,000 sightings of 12,357 sharks. Unfortunately, these incredible creatures lie between endangered and critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. The new database will do a great deal in ensuring the whale sharks feeding, breeding and migration habitat can be located and then preserved.
It’s incredible that such a legendary space explorer like the Hubble Telescope can be used to preserve the Whale shark. Collaborations like these are what will make the future come sooner. Plus how cool and fitting is it that the telescope is looking for an animal that in the Malagasy language is named marokintana meaning “many stars"?