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Satellites, the all-seeing eyes in the sky: counting elephant seals from space


McMahon, CR and Howe, H and van den Hoff, J and Alderman, R and Brolsma, H and Hindell, MA, Satellites, the all-seeing eyes in the sky: counting elephant seals from space, PLoS One, 9, (3) Article e92613. ISSN 1932-6203 (2014) [Refereed Article]


Copyright Statement

Copyright 2014 the Authors-This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

DOI: doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0092613


Regular censuses are fundamental for the management of animal populations but, are logistically challenging for species living in remote regions. The advent of readily accessible, high resolution satellite images of earth mean that it is possible to resolve relatively small (0.6 m) objects, sufficient to discern large animals. To illustrate how these advances can be used to count animals in remote regions, individual elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) were counted using satellite imagery. We used an image taken on 10/10/2011 to count elephant seals (n = 17906306 (95%CL)) on the isthmus of Macquarie Island, an estimate which overlapped with concurrent ground counts (n = 1991). The number of individuals per harem estimated using the two approaches were highly correlated, with a slope close to one and the estimated intercept also encompassing zero. This proof of concept opens the way for satellites to be used as a standard censusing technique for inaccessible and cryptically coloured species. Quantifying the population trends of higher order predators provides an especially informative and tractable indicator of ecosystem health.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:Southern Ocean, predators, ecology
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Ecology
Research Field:Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology)
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Coastal and estuarine systems and management
Objective Field:Assessment and management of coastal and estuarine ecosystems
UTAS Author:McMahon, CR (Dr Clive McMahon)
UTAS Author:Howe, H (Mr Hamish Howe)
UTAS Author:Hindell, MA (Professor Mark Hindell)
ID Code:92723
Year Published:2014
Web of Science® Times Cited:50
Deposited By:IMAS Research and Education Centre
Deposited On:2014-06-26
Last Modified:2017-11-15
Downloads:353 View Download Statistics

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