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Unleashing the Power of AI in Wildlife Observation


Whale watching, a beloved activity attracting an estimated 13 million people annually, has always faced challenges capturing the elusive giants on camera. Ted Cheeseman, a dedicated whale conservationist, acknowledges the difficulty, stating, “you see 2% of the whale for 2% of the time.” However, a pioneering solution is emerging through the intersection of artificial intelligence (AI) and whale conservation efforts.

HappyWhale: Connecting Humans and Whales

Ted Cheeseman’s research company, HappyWhale, is revolutionizing the whale-watching experience. HappyWhale’s AI software, known as “WhaleID,” analyzes photos uploaded by users to identify individual whales. With a database of over 70,000 whales, the AI utilizes adapted human facial recognition technology to discern unique tail markings, colors, or shapes. This enables users to learn the whale’s name, track its movements, and even contribute to its story.

The AI Advantage

HappyWhale’s AI goes beyond the traditional constraints of whale photography. Unlike conventional methods that rely on still and spread-out tails, WhaleID can identify whales even when their tails are rotated, curved, or in the midst of diving. This breakthrough enhances the overall whale-watching experience, making it more immersive and educational.

Conservation through Crowdsourcing

HappyWhale not only enhances the whale-watching experience but also contributes significantly to conservation efforts. The data collected from user-uploaded photos aids in tracking whale numbers and movements. This innovative approach led to a tangible impact, as the tracking data played a crucial role in convincing the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators to reduce ship speeds, preventing whale strikes.

AI in Ornithology: Merlin Bird ID App

Whales are not the only beneficiaries of AI in conservation. In the realm of ornithology, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Merlin Bird ID app utilizes AI to identify bird species through photos or recordings of their songs. This app empowers birders, helping them navigate through over 700 bird species, while simultaneously contributing valuable data to researchers.

iNaturalist: AI in Biodiversity Identification

The iNaturalist app started as a social network for nature enthusiasts, allowing them to post photos for community identification. Today, AI plays a crucial role in automatically determining the species captured in uploaded photos. Grant Van Horn, one of the app’s developers, explains that the AI learns from patterns, continuously improving its accuracy as more images are added.

Boosting Conservation Efforts

Wayne Klockner, executive director of the American Birding Association, emphasizes the positive impact of image recognition apps in birdwatching and conservation. He believes that increased knowledge and enjoyment foster a deeper interest in conservation, as people are more likely to protect what they love.


The convergence of AI and conservation efforts is transforming the way we interact with and protect the diverse species inhabiting our planet. From the depths of the ocean with whale tracking to the skies with bird identification, these AI-powered tools empower individuals to connect with nature and actively contribute to the preservation of our environment.

Merlin Bird ID


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