NOAA Fisheries and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) today announced that they have teamed up with DrivenData and HeroX, in collaboration with Wild Me and NASA, to launch the crowdsourcing competition, Where’s Whale-do?, to help NOAA Fisheries researchers accurately identify endangered Cook Inlet beluga whales from photographic images. Participants are competing for a prize purse of $35,000.

Measuring up to 15 feet and 3,500 pounds, beluga whales are extremely sociable mammals that live throughout the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of the northern hemisphere. The population of Cook Inlet beluga whales, the subject of this competition, began declining in the 1990s from overhunting and are currently at risk of extinction. There are only 300 surviving Cook Inlet belugas, and they are tracked using overhead photographs from drones and lateral photographs from ocean vessels.

To help monitor and protect the whale population, wildlife researchers visually match these photographs to existing images based on whale features such as color, unique marks and scratches, and dorsal ridge shape. However, processing and analyzing these photographs is largely manual and consumes significant time and resources. Scientists are seeking innovative methods using artificial intelligence (AI) to automate this process and accurately match the same individual whale in different survey images.

“Our goal is to be able to analyze our overhead photographs of Cook Inlet beluga whales quickly and accurately to produce annual estimates of abundance and calf production in a timely manner,” said Paul Wade, beluga whale researcher, NOAA Fisheries, Alaska Fisheries Science Center. “This will allow us to monitor the population and try to understand what may be hindering the recovery of this endangered whale population.”

“We are pleased to support this important research,” said Dr. Christina Bonsell, an ecologist in BOEM’s Alaska Regional Office. “BOEM’s Environmental Studies Program looks for innovative solutions to resource management challenges. Leveraging crowdsourcing can help ensure effective management and protection of this critically endangered marine mammal population.”

“These kinds of open AI challenges channel the efforts of skilled experts and enhance the tools available to our nation’s public agencies,” said Greg Lipstein, Principal at DrivenData. “This solution will have the immediate potential to be used for whale image matching, a critical step in the effective and timely conservation of these endangered belugas.”

“Keeping endangered animals safe is top-of-mind for me, and I am excited to have the talented community of HeroX solvers engaged in this important challenge,” said Kal K. Sahota, CEO, HeroX.

The Challenge: NOAA Fisheries is looking for an automated solution to integrate into the existing Flukebook platform for Cook Inlet beluga whales created by Wild Me. Prizes will be awarded based on the accuracy of model matches. Accelerated and scalable matching is critical to effective measurement, management, and protection of the Cook Inlet beluga population. Machine learning has the potential to expedite the creation and analysis of large datasets of images.

Eligibility to Compete and Win Prize(s): The prize is open to anyone aged 18 or older participating as an individual or as a team. Individual competitors and teams may originate from any country, as long as United States federal sanctions do not prohibit participation (some restrictions apply). Additional eligibility requirements or limits can be found in the challenge rules.

To accept the challenge, visit https://belugas.drivendata.org/

ABOUT DRIVENDATA

DrivenData is a social enterprise dedicated to bringing the data tools and methods that are transforming industry to the world’s biggest challenges. As part of that work, DrivenData’s competition platform channels the skills and passion of data scientists, researchers, and other quantitative experts to build solutions for social good. These online machine learning challenges are designed to engage a large expert community, connect participants with real-world data problems, and highlight their best solutions.

See our past competitions and learn more at www.drivendata.org

ABOUT HEROX

HeroX is a platform and open marketplace for crowdsourcing innovation and human ingenuity, co-founded in 2013 by serial entrepreneur, Christian Cotichini and XPRIZE Founder and Futurist, Peter Diamandis. HeroX offers a turnkey, easy-to-use platform that supports anyone, anywhere, to solve everyday business and world challenges using the power of the crowd. Uniquely positioned as the Social Network for Innovation, HeroX is the only place you can build, grow and curate your very own crowd.

Explore the latest challenges at www.herox.com

ABOUT NOAA FISHERIES, Alaska Fisheries Science Center

The mission of NOAA Fisheries Alaska Fisheries Science Center is to provide science and services in support of productive and sustainable fisheries, recovery and conservation of protected resources, and healthy ecosystems in the marine waters of Alaska.

ABOUT BOEM

BOEM’s mission is to manage development of U.S. Outer Continental Shelf energy and mineral resources in an environmentally and economically responsible way. BOEM develops, funds, and manages rigorous scientific research studies to inform its policy decisions on offshore energy and mineral resource development.

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