London: Analysing satellite images may help scientists detect and count stranded whales from space, new research has found.
In a study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, researchers tested a new detection method using Very High Resolution (VHR) satellite images from space tech compnay Maxar Technologies.
"This is an exciting development in monitoring whales from space," said lead author Peter Fretwell at British Antarctic Survey.
"Now we have a higher resolution 'window' on our planet, satellite imagery may be a fast and cost-effective alternative to aerial surveys allowing us to assess the extent of mass whale stranding events, especially in remote and inaccessible areas."
It is hoped that in the future the technique will lead to real-time information as stranding events happen.
The study by scientists from British Antarctic Survey and four Chilean research institutes, could revolutionise how stranded whales, that are dead in the water or beached, are detected in remote places.
In 2015, over 340 whales, most of them sea whales, were involved in a mass-stranding in a remote region of Chilean Patagonia.
The stranding was not discovered for several weeks owing to the remoteness of the region. Aerial and boat surveys assessed the extent of the mortality several months after discovery.
The researchers studied satellite images covering thousands of kilometres of coastline, which provided an early insight into the extent of the mortality.
They could identify the shape, size and colour of the whales, especially after several weeks when the animals turned pink and orange as they decomposed.
A greater number of whales were counted in the images captured soon after the stranding event than from the local surveys.
"The causes of marine mammal strandings are poorly understood and therefore information gathered helps understand how these events may be influenced by overall health, diet, environmental pollution, regional oceanography, social structures and climate change," said study co-author and whale biologist Jennifer Jackson at British Antarctic Survey.
"As this new technology develops, we hope it will become a useful tool for obtaining real-time information. This will allow local authorities to intervene earlier and possibly help with conservation efforts," Jackson said.