Mon, July 19, 2021


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Wildlife biologists use AI to track whale sharks across the globe

A not for profit wildlife conservation machine learning and AI provider, Wild Me, has enabled biologists to track whale sharks across the world.  

The organisation was created to be the "trusted engineering powerhouse for wildlife biologists across the globe." It builds open software and AI for the conservation research community with a team of software professionals. They specialise in supporting charities that fight against animal extinction.  

The software produced by Wild Me enables researchers to track individual whale sharks by identifying their unique spot patterns. The technology was a modification of the Hubble space telescope algorithm that looked at the pattern of stars in the night sky. 

After successfully tracking the sharks, the platform then expanded to help other animal researchers. Other species including manta rays, giraffes and sea dragons have since been catalogued. The platform now helps more than 200 organisations and nearly 1000 researchers to track nearly 90,000 animals around the world.  

Jason Holmberg, the organisations executive director, co-founder and director of engineering explains: “It's been an evolving process. When we first started working with biologists across the globe, we would write custom importers for every piece of data. That custom one-off code would take weeks.” 

Ben Scheiner, Wild Me senior software engineer, said: "We had our own hand-rolled JavaScript framework for doing data imports. But it was buggy. We are focused on ecological problems, and AI and machine learning is our key service. Understanding this data onboarding deserves its own company and suite of solutions. That's something we were unable to do on a non-profit bank account." 

The next phase of work was to help field biologists map data to a common set of fields and descriptors. After that, the organisation had to find a way to scale the system and to let the researchers validate their own data.  

Wild Me solved these problems by starting a pilot with a company called Flatfile. Now, during the validation process anomalies are presented back to the biologists who curated the data.  

The use of the platform has already begun to change what we know about the species studied. For example, it was thought that whale sharks exclusively moved with the Indian Ocean. We now know that they are very active in the Gulf of Mexico.  

You can read more about this here.