Spectral reflectance of whale skin above the sea surface: a proposed measurement protocol

Great whales have been detected using very‐high‐resolution satellite imagery, suggesting this technology could be used to monitor whales in remote areas. However, the application of this method to whale studies is at an early developmental stage and several technical factors need to be addressed, including capacity for species differentiation and the maximum depth of detection in the water column. Both require knowledge of the spectral reflectance of the various whale species just above the sea surface, as when whales bodies break the surface of the water to breath, log or breach, there is, at times, no sea water between the whale's skin and the satellite sensor. Here we tested whether such reflectance could be measured on dead whale tissue. We measured the spectral reflectance of fresh integument collected during the bowhead subsistence harvest, and of thawed integument samples from various species obtained following strandings and stored at −20°C. We show that fresh and thawed samples of whale integument have different spectral properties. The reflectance of fresh samples was higher than the reflectance of thawed samples, as integument appears to darken after death and with time, even under frozen conditions. In this study, we present the first whale reflectance estimates (without the influence of sea water and for dead tissue). These provide a baseline for additional work, needed to advance the use of satellite imagery to monitor whales and facilitate their conservation.


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Authors: Cubaynes, Hannah C. ORCIDORCID record for Hannah C. Cubaynes, Rees, W. Gareth, Jackson, Jennifer A. ORCIDORCID record for Jennifer A. Jackson, Moore, Michael, Sformo, Todd L., McLellan, William A., Niemeyer, Misty E., George, John C., van der Hoop, Julie, Forcada, Jaume ORCIDORCID record for Jaume Forcada, Trathan, Phil ORCIDORCID record for Phil Trathan, Fretwell, Peter T. ORCIDORCID record for Peter T. Fretwell

On this site: Hannah Cubaynes, Jennifer Jackson, Jaume Forcada, Philip Trathan, Peter Fretwell
10 March, 2020
Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation
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