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Eyes in the Sky Help Researchers Show Extent of Gray Seal Recovery in US and Canada

Source: Phys.org/Duke University - June 15, 2017 in Environment

Eyes in the Sky Help Researchers Show Extent of Gray Seal Recovery in US and Canada
Photo: Andreas Trepte/WIkimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.5)

Using research drones, thermal cameras and free images from Google Earth, two Duke University-led studies confirm that gray seals are making a comeback off the New England and eastern Canadian coasts.

The findings help confirm that seal conservation efforts are working, and that these remote eye-in-the sky technologies make it easier and safer for scientists to study migratory wildlife in remote locations and estimate their numbers accurately.

“Past surveys based on traditional methods of counting, using occupied aircraft to survey seals on beaches, islands and seasonal ice cover, counted about 15,000 seals off the southeastern Massachusetts coast,” said David W. Johnston, assistant professor of the practice of marine conservation ecology at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

“Our technology-aided aerial survey, which used Google Earth imagery in conjunction with telemetry data from tagged animals, suggests the number is much larger—between 30,000 and 50,000,” Johnston said. “This is a conservation success that should be celebrated.”

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