CLOSE

Facial Recognition Software Could Help Researchers Identify Individual Whales

Facial recognition software is good for more than just tagging photos of your friends on Facebook. The technology is now being used to identify individual whales from above. 

Christin Khan, a biologist who studies North Atlantic right whales for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was inspired by a specific detail she often captures in her aerial photographs of the animals. The whales Khan studies have distinctive pale markings on their heads called callosities, which are areas of raised thickened skin. The light color comes from the thousands of "white lice"—small crustaceans called cyamids—that call the callosities home. These spots are similar to thumbprints in that their unique patterns can be used to distinguish whales from one another.

Determined to turn her observation into a practical tool for research, Khan took her idea to the internet. She offered users on the data competition site Kaggle a $10,000 prize provided by the software company MathWorks to develop an accurate facial recognition software for right whales. Nearly 500 people vied for the top prize, and it was ultimately awarded to the data science company Deepsense.io, whose software was able to identify the whales with about 87 percent accuracy. The initial data set was composed of 4500 whale pictures, and the team says they will need more photographs in order to improve the technology. 

In addition to its applications in whale research, the software could also have a more direct impact on whale conservation. When a whale becomes entangled in a net, fishing crews could use it to ID the trapped whale and gather information about its health history to inform a course of action. According to Khan, it will be another year before the research team is prepared to use the software in the field. Similar identification technology is currently being pursued for humpback whales, which can be told apart by their distinctive tail flukes rather than the markings on their backs. 

[h/t: Fortune

nextArticle.image_alt|e
John Phillips, Getty Images
arrow
Pop Culture
How The Crown Saved the Corgis
John Phillips, Getty Images
John Phillips, Getty Images

Corgis may be both Queen Elizabeth II and the internet’s favorite dog breed, but their longtime association with the former has actually proven detrimental to their popularity in England. So much so that, in 2009, the stout little furballs were added to the UK Kennel Club’s list of native breeds that were “at risk of extinction.” Now, The Telegraph reports, their numbers are rising—thanks in part to the popularity of Netflix’s The Crown.

According to The Telegraph, the Queen’s love of the corgi is partly what caused its dip in popularity, as they “have long been regarded as a breed for the elderly and the genteel upper middle class.” But The Crown’s revisiting of the royal family in the early days of Elizabeth II’s reign (and the years leading up to it) have shown the Queen in a new, and much more stylish, light—and her beloved breed has reaped the rewards. In just the past two months, since The Crown’s second season dropped on Netflix in December, the Kennel Club has seen enough interest in the breed to take them off the endangered list entirely.

The Crown has certainly been important in the resurgence of the corgi breed,” Kennel Club public relations manager David Robson said. “It has increased interest in the breed. Following the transmission of the second series, searches for the breed puppies on our website went up by 22 percent.”

The dogs have proven to be a hit with viewers, as well as their costars. Claire Foy and Matt Smith, who portrayed Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in the show’s first two seasons, admitted that when they’re filming with the series' dogs, it’s the corgis who steal the show.

“When we’re with the corgis, then all the shots are about the corgis and you have to fit your acting around what the corgis are doing,” Foy explained in an interview with Off Set. “Which is absolutely … fine. And is the way it should be quite frankly.”

But even before Netflix unleashed its pricey royal drama on the world, the Queen’s dogs were finding their way back into the spotlight. In 2011, shortly after Prince William married Kate Middleton, BBC reported that the Cardigan Welsh corgi (a sort of cousin to the Pembroke Welsh corgi that the Queen prefers, though the Kennel Club lumps them into one category) saw a registration increase of 134 percent, which the group chalked up to the “royal wedding effect.”

Interest in the breed surged again in 2015, when the Queen—who has owned 30 of the dogs during her life, beginning with her childhood pooch Dookie—announced that she would no longer breed the pups, as she did not want to leave any young dogs behind in the event of her death. Adding to their pop culture cachet: During their first official interview after announcing their engagement, Prince Harry admitted that part of the reason he knew wife-to-be Meghan Markle was “the one” was because “the corgis took to [her] straight away.”

[h/t: The Telegraph]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
BBC
arrow
Animals
Watch a Cheetah Hunt Its Prey—From the Cheetah's Point of View
BBC
BBC

Even if you're a huge fan of wildlife documentaries, you've never seen a cheetah hunt quite like this. For PBS's latest Nature miniseries, Animals With Cameras, animal behaviorists strapped custom-made cameras on meerkats, seals, cheetahs, and more to capture never-before-seen footage.

"There's absolutely no way we could see this any other way," wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan says in the clip below, which follows a hunting cheetah as she and her siblings try to take down an eland, a type of antelope native to east and southern Africa.

A holster used to attach a camera to a cheetah's head
Isabel Rogers

The custom-made camera was strapped to the top of the cheetah's head, allowing it to record footage from the animal's point of view. The cameras were designed by Chris Watts of British Technical Films, a UK-based company that specializes in developing custom camera kits to capture wildlife and nature footage.

The cheetah-mounted cameras had to be extra-light, since the fast-moving predators were extremely sensitive to the device's weight. (As you, too, might be if you had a camera on your head while sprinting.) The straps that secured the camera had to allow enough airflow to keep the cat's head cool and be flexible enough that the animal could get the device off if it became too bothersome. And since running across the savannah at 70 mph can get a bit bumpy, the camera had to have stabilizing sensors to make the footage smooth, so it wouldn't make viewers queasy.

The result is a pretty spectacular scene following a cheetah from the moment it picks up the scent of its prey to the end of its hunt. Watch the full video below. We won't spoil how it ends.

The final episode of Animals With Cameras airs on February 14 at 8 p.m. Eastern Time.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios