SPACEWHALE – whale surveys from space

SPACEWHALE is a service providing AI-based detection of large whales in very high-resolution satellite imagery.

Please refer to the website of the service for further information about SPACEWHALE.

A combination of deep learning and expert knowledge

SPACEWHALE uses a semi-automated process to evaluate satellite imagery, combining state-of-the-art artificial intelligence and manual verification by a team of marine mammal experts.

  • In a first step, the SPACEWHALE algorithm scans the satellite imagery for the presence of whales.
  • In the second step, our experts review the detected objects to verify the classification and identify the species.

Using this approach, areas with no whales are excluded by the algorithm and large, difficult to access survey areas can be processed in a relatively short time.

The method allows monitoring remote and unexplored regions in the high seas, where traditional ship-based or aerial surveys are difficult to carry out or even impossible.

Several studies document the accuracy of this method (Borowicz et al. (2019), Höschle et al. (2022)).

SPACEWHALE processes the very high-resolution imagery immediately and the results are quickly made available for the client. The client receives sections of the imagery including the detected marine mammals, tables indicating the abundance as well as maps showing the distribution of the animals. 

Experts from industry, government and nature conservation can use these data in baseline studies, environmental impact assessments or monitoring.

Our services in detail

Abundance estimates

We provide abundance estimates and determine the minimum species density for large whales or wildlife species on a per-survey basis which can be used to generate population trends over time.

Distribution maps

Using advanced modelling techniques, we create distribution maps of target species in ESRI-compatible raster formats.

Bespoke analyses

In cooperation with our clients we offer bespoke analyses to support conservation and advanced ecological studies.

Reference projects

Papers and reports

Höschle, C., Macleod, K., Mahjoub, A.B., Kosarev, V., Humphries, G., Voss, J., Carroll, E.L., Constantine, R., Childerhouse, S., Lundquist, D., Riekkola, L. & Nehls, G. (2022)

Satellite surveys prove a reliable monitoring method for high latitude southern right whale habitat

International Whaling Commission

Höschle, C., Cubaynes, H.C., Clarke, P.J., Humphries, G. & Borowicz, A. (2021)

The Potential of Satellite Imagery for Surveying Whales

Sensors 2021, 21, 963

Borowicz, A., Le, H., Humphries, G., Nehls, G., Höschle, C., Kosarev, V. & Lynch, H.J. (2019)

Aerial-trained deep learning networks for surveying cetaceans from satellite imagery

PLoS ONE 14(10): e0212532

Further information

BioConsult SH has developed SPACEWHALE in collaboration with HiDef Aerial Surveying Ltd. The project was co-funded by the European Space Agency (ESA).

Please visit the website of the European Space Agency (ESA) for further information: