A group of scientists in the U.K. has used a high-resolution satellite to identify the different species of whales from space. So far the technology has been used to detect southern rights whales around the Peninsula Valdes, Argentina; fin whales in parts of the northern Mediterranean; humpbacks near Hawaii; and Pacific gray whales in Laguna San Ignacio, Mexico.

How does it work?

The images captured are taken from 385 miles above the Earth’s surface by the WorldView-3 spacecraft. The spacecraft can identify objects as small as 12 inches wide which has never been done before. The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) has been using this information to plot the migratory patterns of four species of whales in order to better understand these giant mammals.

YouTube/Lockheed Martin Videos

An ecologist from BAS, Hannah Cubaynes, has stated in the study that “this is the most detailed imagery of whales captured by satellites to date. It’s exciting that the improved resolution reveals characteristic features, such as flippers and flukes, can be seen in the images for the first time.”

Not all whales can be identified

Although the BAS has been able to identify four species of whales, not all species can be identified with the satellite.

Jon Shaw and Scott Last

Some species, like fin and gray whales, are easier to identify because their color contrasts with the water. While the energetic behavior of humpback whales makes it harder for them to be captured by the satellite.

Helping the whales of the future

This new technology can be used to help us find whales remotely. Cubaynes believes that “the ability to track whales without traveling to remote and inaccessible areas, in a cost-effective way, will be of great benefit to conservation efforts for whales.”

Mandurah Mail/Supplied

Endangered whale populations could benefit a lot from this approach because we would be able to track their growth and movements a lot easier. The high-resolution satellite has already made a huge splash in tracking whales around the globe and will only continue to improve the lives of whales everywhere.