My Introduction to Smart Tech

A talk on ‘How AI and and Smart Tech are helping protect marine megafauna’ at The City of Perth Library

Have you ever seen a flatback turtle snacking on the fin of a live whale shark swimming peacefully?

Apparently the shark extracted its revenge from the turtle and this video was deemed too violent for the family audience present at the City of Perth Library. So it was not shown to us. This video was recorded by a camera mounted on the turtle shell for research purposes by Dr Adrian Gleiss and his team.

Source: AI decodes flatback turtle behaviour in Roebuck Bay

City of Perth Library and Murdoch University organized the event: ‘How AI and and Smart Tech are helping protect marine megafauna’ on 26th July 2023. It was presented by Dr Adrian Gleiss, a Murdoch University senior lecturer and senior author.

I attended this session with my father and little sister. I learnt about the behaviors of a few marine animals in the ocean and how scientists are researching about them. The session was very informative and I got an amazing first introduction to smart technology sensors for data collection.

How to ‘spy on’ Marine Animals

Electronic tags are attached to the marine animals like seals, whale sharks and flatback turtles using vacuum cups or ties. Many smart technology (Smart Tech) sensors are present on these tags to collect data for research. Some of the Smart Tech sensors are gyroscope, accelerometer, magnetometer, GPS…

Smart Tech Sensors on Tags

Gyroscopes are helpful in creating a ‘Time-Depth’ record of marine animals. These help researchers in uncovering new secrets. Example: Contrary to general belief, seals are found to be swimming to a depth of 700m.

Accelerometers attached to the tail of whale sharks can record up to 20 data samples/second. Sharks have to constantly swim (wag its tail) even to maintain its steady level in water. Otherwise it will sink to the bottom of the ocean because of its negative buoyancy. The energy spent by the shark in swimming up or down can be studied from the movement of the tail.

Magnetometer in the tag can detect the magnetic north of the Earth and so it helps the researchers to plot the direction of the travel of marine animals in a given area of the ocean.

A tiny camera on the tags can record videos. These tags can be attached to the dorsal fin of white sharks or on the shell of turtles. They record videos from that unique point of view. This was how the researchers could see the ‘deadly’ interaction between the hungry flatback turtle and the whale shark!

Video recording is possible only up to three days because of battery life and memory size limitations. Without the camera, the tags can record data from other sensors up to seven days.

GPS sensors are used to locate the marine animal on a map. But GPS sensor works effectively only on the surface because it needs a line-of-sight visibility to GPS satellites in the sky. So it is of no use to study animals like sharks who spend their time underwater. Fortunately, animals like flatback turtles and seals can be tracked using GPS sensors because they have to swim up to the surface for breathing atmospheric air.

Data Collection from Tags

If the tags can be recovered physically from the marine animal or from the ocean, data can be directly downloaded to a computer. Some tags, while still attached to the animal, can send out data using radio signals. This can be read using a hand-held antenna from a boat or from the seashore. If the tag can send powerful radio signals, artificial satellites can read them and send them back to the Earth.

AI for Data Analysis

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) can look at the huge amount of raw data downloaded from the tags and detect relevant patterns within a small time compared to humans doing the same job. To train and test the AI, 3% of the multi-sensor data (including video) is used. Now the trained AI can look at the remaining 97% of the multi-sensor data and can predict the behavior patterns of marine animals.

Why are we studying marine animal behavior?

Satellite Image of Roebuck Bay

Dr Adrian talked about learning the migration pattern of flatback turtles in Roebuck Bay of Broome (Western Australia) where they nest to hatch new baby turtles. He also showed images of how tides affect the marine life there. These information help to minimize human activity when it matters most in conserving the marine animals. All these studies help us to maintain the biodiversity of our planet.

Click on the image for a larger preview.

I really had a fun time learning new things about technology and marine life! I look forward for more science sessions to expand my knowledge. I’m sure this will enable me to participate in meaningful activities to save our planet.

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