4 February, 2021

British Antarctic Survey (BAS) scientists will work with an Artificial Intelligence company after being awarded a contract from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) to support the protection of an endangered marine species. Under the smartWhales initiative, the Government of Canada is investing $5.3 million in five companies to advance innovative solutions that could enhance Canada’s ability to detect and monitor the presence of these whales in Canadian waters and predict their movements.

The BAS team, and others, will work to develop a solution that will detect North Atlantic right whales using machine learning and high-resolution satellite imagery hosted on the AI-based OCIANA™. The team includes Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, British Antarctic Survey, Dalhousie University, DeepSense, Ocean Frontier Institute. OCIANA’s AI platform will be created to recognise right whales using satellite imagery and provide alerts and route recommendations to vessels to avoid collisions with the whales. Ships will also receive route and speed recommendations when whales are in the area as part of the global routing solution.

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is leading smartWhales in collaboration with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Transport Canada. This initiative funds research and development projects that leverage satellite data to help protect the North Atlantic right whale.

A fish swimming under water.
BAS researchers will provide training data and remote sensing expertise to detect and monitor right whales

OCIANA™ is an AI-based platform that ingests large volumes of data from a range of satellite- and ocean-based sensors, which includes information on ocean, weather, vessel, port, and marine species activity. The data is processed using proprietary techniques developed by GSTS researchers to provide decision-making information in near real-time to save lives, energy, and the environment.

Richard Kolacz is the CEO of Global Spatial Technology Solutions (GSTS) who are extending it application suite offered by its Maritime Management Platform OCIANA to detect, track and protect right whales. He says:

“We are pleased to be working with such a distinguished team to develop a capability to support the protection of the endangered North Atlantic right whale. We intend to incorporate this capability into our Maritime AI platform OCIANA™ to mitigate vessel interaction with the whales and improve the fidelity of our global vessel management system. We intend to expand the list of endangered marine species we are able to protect in this manner.

Dr Peter Fretwell leads the Wildlife from Space project at BAS. He says:

“Counting whales in the open ocean is like finding needles in the proverbial haystack. They may be the largest beasts on the planet, but they are tiny if you have to search at an ocean scale. Developing an AI approach to automatically identify them from satellite imagery will help us to understand their numbers, movements and threats in seas that are ever more crowded and utilised by humanity.”

Nick Record, from Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, says:

“I think that working across the Canada-US borders is one of the keys to protecting right whales. This collaboration will be a great foundation for cross-border science.”

Olivia Pisano, PhD Candidate at Dalhousie University, says:

This as an opportunity to transform our vision of being a catalyst between meaningful ocean research, and its real-life application in government, industry, and community. Providing information that can be used by decision makers, to make sure that we’re keeping these whales safe, that we’re finding out as much as we can about them, and that we’re doing everything that we can to make sure that all whales survive.”

Jennifer LaPlante, Executive Director at DeepSense, says:

“The DeepSense team is thrilled to collaborate on the SmartWhales project. This initiative highlights the value of DeepSense, bringing together companies with data and ocean scientists to accelerate the development and adoption of ground-breaking artificial intelligence in the ocean sector. For this project GSTS will have access to the latest in AI and data science technologies and talent required for growth.”

Dr. Anya Waite, Scientific Director and CEO, Ocean Frontier Institute, says:

“This partnership is an example of what the Ocean Frontier Institute was designed to do—be a catalyst between meaningful ocean research and its real-life application in government, industry and community.”

About GSTS

GSTS is a leader in Artificial Intelligence solutions for the maritime domain. Our solutions are designed to save lives, energy, and the environment on a global scale through the use of innovative applications based on emerging data sets and analytics. Our solutions enable enhanced decision-based operations for civil, commercial and defence and security agencies and industries. For more information, visit www.gsts.ca.

About Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences

Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences is an independent, non-profit research institute located in East Boothbay, Maine, USA. Bigelow scientists use innovative approaches to study the foundation of global ocean health and unlock its potential to improve the future for all life on our planet. The institution hosts cutting-edge facilities, including a Center for Ocean Forecasting, which will help develop the forecasts for this project.

About British Antarctic Survey

British Antarctic Survey (BAS), an institute of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and part of UKRI, delivers and enables world-leading interdisciplinary research in the Polar Regions. Its skilled science and support staff based in Cambridge, Antarctica, and the Arctic, work together to deliver research that uses the Polar Regions to advance our understanding of Earth as a sustainable planet. Through its extensive logistic capability and know how BAS facilitates access for the British and international science community to the UK polar research operation. Numerous national and international collaborations, combined with an excellent infrastructure help sustain a world leading position for the UK in Antarctic affairs. For more information visit our website www.bas.ac.uk or social media; TW @BAS_news, FB @BritishAntarcticSurvey, LI @british-antarctic-survey, IG @britishantarcticsurvey

About Dalhousie University

Dalhousie University is Atlantic Canada’s leading research-intensive university. Located in the heart of Halifax, Nova Scotia, with an Agricultural Campus in Truro/Bible Hill, Dalhousie is a truly national and international university, with more than half of the university’s 20,000-plus students coming from outside the province. Dal’s 6,000 faculty and staff foster a diverse, purpose-driven community, one that spans 13 faculties and conducts more than $181 million in research annually. Part of a cluster identified as one of the world’s top international centres in ocean research, the university proudly celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2018.

About DeepSense

Based at Dalhousie University, DeepSense unites the next generation of AI and machine learning experts with companies that want to harness the potential of data and lead the smarter ocean economy. With funding and support from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), the Province of Nova Scotia, the Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship (COVE), the Ocean Frontier Institute (OFI) and IBM, DeepSense drives growth in the ocean economy through artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data applied research.

 About OFI

The Ocean Frontier Institute (OFI) was established in September 2016 through a partnership led by Dalhousie University, Memorial University, and the University of Prince Edward Island. An international hub for ocean research, OFI brings together experts from both sides of the North Atlantic to be a global leader in transnational interdisciplinary ocean research, producing demonstrable and enduring social, economic, and environmental benefits.