News at the University of New Brunswick

UNB researcher contributing expertise to initiative to help protect whales

Author: UNB Newsroom

Posted on Feb 1, 2021

Category: myUNB , UNB Saint John

The Government of Canada has announced $5.3 million in funding for projects that will advance innovative solutions to help protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale, and a UNB research team will be part of this vital initiative.

The smartWhales initiative will support five research and development projects to develop solutions that use satellite data to help detect and monitor the presence of North Atlantic right whales in Canadian waters and predict their movements.

Dr. Kimberley Davies, an assistant professor of biological sciences on UNB’s Saint John campus, is working on a $1.2 million-funded project to develop a system that will detect whales using deep-learning algorithms, high-resolution satellite imagery, automation, and geoscience computing.

“Global whale populations, including North Atlantic right whales, are chronically under-sampled because the tools available are both range-limited and expensive,” said Dr. Davies. “The objective of our project is to develop and evaluate methods for detecting endangered whales in very high-resolution satellite images. Our lab is thrilled about the opportunity to advance global whale monitoring technology through the smartWhales initiative in collaboration with a fantastic team of researchers drawn from various disciplines, countries and sectors.”

The project will be led by Vancouver-based environmental consultants at the Hatfield Group. Other partners in this project include Dalhousie University, Duke University, the Canadian Wildlife Federation and machine learning company AltaML.

“Hatfield is excited to work with UNB, and in particular to investigate the complementary use of space-based technology with the cetacean and oceanography research led by Dr. Davies,” said Dr. Andy Dean, senior partner at Hatfield.

This work builds on Dr. Davies’ previous and current work on safeguarding the endangered North Atlantic right whale, including the development of real-time acoustic glider whale monitoring systems with Transport Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

“Every day, our world needs innovative and effective solutions to increasingly complex problems,” said Dr. David MaGee, UNB’s vice-president (research). “Projects like this one illustrate how the novel use of data in a partnership across academia, government and industry can bring together the expertise and resources needed to make real change. They also illustrate the crucial role played by scientists and researchers in safeguarding our oceans, our world and our future.”

The Canadian Space Agency is leading the smartWhales initiative in collaboration with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Transport Canada. The initiative is funded with $4.1 million from the Canadian Space Agency and $1.2 million from Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

More information on the initiative, including details on the other four projects funded, is available from the Canadian Space Agency.

Media contact: Jeremy Elder-Jubelin

Photo credit: Pexels