Artificial Intelligence: AI For Deeper Insight Into The Mysterious Narwhals

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Narwhals are small, unicorn-like whales that live and forage for food deep in the Arctic seas.

It has been a challenge to study narwhals, the elusive and mysterious whales in the Arctic seas that sport a long unicorn horn on their snouts. They are known to hunt for food upto a thousand meters below the surface of the sea. However, researchers from the University of Copenhagen and the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources have deployed artificial intelligence (AI) to unravel the foraging secrets of the narwhals. (Datanami)

Tracking the “near-threatened” narwhal species with AI

The traditional method used by scientists for researching their food habits has been to attach instruments to narwhals and then track the locational and acoustic data (such as clicks) generated as the animals move in their habitat. While effective for most studies, these instruments are confounded when the narwhal moves into hunting mode because the clicks then turn into buzzes. These are difficult to make sense of.

However, the scientists found a workaround for the problem by training an AI algorithm to analyze the buzzing sounds from the narwhals. The algo was the result of an interdisciplinary collaboration including mathematicians, computer scientists and marine biologists.

Once trained, the algo could recognize both the various swimming patterns of whales as well as their buzzing sounds. It could also predict that when narwhals emit certain sounds, they are hunting prey.

Protecting narwhals

“It is crucial to gain more insight into where and when narwhals hunt for food as sea ice recedes. If they are disturbed by shipping traffic, it matters whether this is in the middle of an important foraging area. Finding out however, is incredibly difficult. Here, artificial intelligence seems to be able to make a huge difference and to a great extent, provide us with knowledge that could not otherwise have been obtained,” said researcher Mads Peter Heide-Jørgensen, a professor at the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources.

“In a situation where narwhals are in deep water, in the middle of the Bay of Baffin during December, we currently have no way of finding out where or when they are foraging. Here, artificial intelligence seems to be the way forward.”

Related Story:    The Norwegian AI Lab Helps Salmon Aquaculture

Image credit: Oceana                                               

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