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Researchers are measuring ocean health with drones, A.I., and whale snot

How do you determine the health of the oceans and the Arctic? With some drones, artificial intelligence, and a bit of whale snot. On World Animal Day, Wednesday, October 4, Intel shared how its technology is being used as part of two successful wildlife research projects involving camera drones and artificial intelligence. The company recently partnered with a wildlife photographer, a conservationist, and two non-profit organizations to study the health of polar bears and whales, both animals that offer clues to the health of their ecosystems and the impact of climate change.

In the first study, wildlife photographer Ole Jorgen Liodden used Intel’s Falcon 8 drone system and a thermal camera to study the habits of a group of polar bears. With the drone’s aerial views, Liodden was able to monitor behavior like feeding, breeding, and migration. The data, Intel says, will help scientists understand how the animals are impacted by climate change, which offers a glimpse of the health of the arctic ecosystem as a whole.

Traditionally, researchers would have studied the bears’ movements using helicopters, a method that’s both expensive and invasive to the bears, or boats, a scenario that’s dangerous for researchers because of the harsh conditions.  Using the drone, the polar bears did not appear to be affected by its noise or appearance, even when the UAV was flown between 50 and 100 meters away.

“Polar bears are a symbol of the Arctic. They are strong, intelligent animals,” Liodden said. “If they become extinct, there will be challenges with our entire ecosystem. Drone technology can hopefully help us get ahead of these challenges to better understand our world and preserve the earth’s environment.”

The second research project is offering a better understanding of the health of the oceans by looking at, yes, whale snot. Accurately dubbed Project SnotBot, Intel partnered with Parley for the Oceans and Ocean Alliance to use artificial intelligence to monitor a whale’s health in real time. SnotBots first started studying the whales earlier this year.

After collecting the spout water from several different breeds of whales, including blue whales, right whales, gray whales, humpback whales and orcas, Intel’s AI algorithms analyze the sample for several different elements. The whale snot contains a wealth of different information, including stress and pregnancy hormones, viruses, bacteria, toxins, and DNA. The machine learning technology, Intel says, allows researchers to access the data in real time in order to make more timely decisions.

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