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A bright spot for AI: conservation


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Whale conservationist Ted Cheeseman admits that the huge animals don't patiently pose for photos.

Instead, on most whale-watching trips he says "you see 2% of the whale for 2% of the time".

Nevertheless, going out in a boat to try to spot a whale remains very popular.

An estimated 13 million people go whale watching every year around the world, and the industry is said to be worth $2.1bn (£1.7bn).

The humpback whale is the star of the whale-watching business, as it's relatively common and spends time on the surface. Mr Cheeseman also says that the humpback is "very engaging", with the luckiest whale-watchers catching a breach (a jump out of the water) or a flick of the tail.

To help people feel a closer connection to each whale, Mr Cheesman's research company, HappyWhale, allows users to upload their photos onto its website.

HappyWhale's artificial intelligence (AI) software will then quickly trawl through its database of more than 70,000 different whales with the aim of telling you the exact animal that you were looking at.

It can tell you the whale's name, if it has already been given one, or invite you to choose one. And if the whale is one that has been previously recorded it will show you a map of everywhere that it has been sighted.

The AI works by using adapted human facial recognition software to identify each whale's uniquely shaped, coloured or marked tail.


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