Big Data Case Study: Whale Tracking

by Kelley Johnson works with two tracking apps for ocean dwellers that use crowdsourcing and real-time data collection in an excellent example of Big Data being used for conservation.


In the newest version of Whale Alert, not only can ship captains find information about areas of protected whales on their shipping routes, but they can also report whale sightings, so that everyone using the app can help to reduce the number of whale deaths and injuries. The app also helps the person spotting the whales in distress so that wildlife organizations can provide assistance. The database is then used by scientists in their research on whale feeding patterns and migration. There is a similar app available for sharks, which provides almost real-time tracking for sharks in California.

Conservation and wildlife preservation are areas of development that big data can make a big difference with the right technology.

In our previous article about big data, this blog addressed some of the potential problems with big data, and tracking apps for wildlife escape many of the problems.

  1. Existence of data/reliable data collection: With just the touch of a screen, you can report a whale sighting, or a whale in a distress. While the average person probably does not have that much knowledge about whales, just a sighting helps contribute to the base of knowledge by experts and novices alike.
  2. Barriers to open data: The best part about crowdsourcing is that the data is contributed to and available to everyone.
  3. Privacy issues: In the case of whales, this seems irrelevant.
  4. Access and representation: Everyone has access to the data, and it is then provided to experts who have the tools to analyze it.
  5. Standardization: Again, the lack of wildlife experts piloting ships could be a problem for the accuracy of the app.
  6. Timeliness: Everyone with the app can access up-to-date information.
  7. High Quality Analysis: The information is provided to scientists, who are able to use it in their research.




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