The technology, which had previously been used mainly to spot stars in the galaxy, is now responsible for tracking the sharks' migration patterns, breeding grounds, and more.

By Nashia Baker
February 25, 2021
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NASA is well-known for its findings out in the universe, but the space agency is now taking a deep dive right here on Earth. Their latest mission? To help save some of the rarest fish in the ocean. According to Good News Network, NASA is using its Hubble Space Telescope to track whale sharks—which are the largest fish species among all marine life in the deep-sea. Researchers don't know much else about the sharks, like their migration patterns, breeding grounds, or the food sources they seek. To better understand and protect this endangered species, NASA is using the Hubble's "Groth" setting, which is known for spotting stars in faraway galaxies, to map out the sharks' patterns. "At the start it was just me taking photos of whale sharks at Ningaloo, but we needed more than one lonely researcher to collect enough data over an extended period," Dr. Brad Norman, a marine biologist from Murdoch University, said in a statement. "And, because tourists were constantly swimming with whale sharks too, why not enlist their support?"

large whale shark in open water
Credit: crisod / getty images

Dr. Norman initially used an algorithm and help from any level of scientist or scuba diver to create a photographic database of whale sharks in the library, Wildbook for Whale Sharks. The marine biologist then enlisted more help to ensure this database could be reached by a wider audience. "I was fortunate to team up with two brilliant scientists, software guru Jason Holmberg and NASA astrophysicist Zaven Arzoumanian, to develop a user-friendly database where anyone, anywhere can upload their own images of whale sharks," he explained.

"We're talking about an animal considered to be rare, maybe a couple of hundred documented sightings in all of history," Jason Holmberg, who fostered the idea to use the Hubble's Groth algorithm for the shark discoveries, and helped create the database with Dr. Norman, told NASA. At the moment, there are over 76,000 findings of 12,357 whale sharks all in this one library.

With the help of the database, the team of scientists can decode certain features on each whale shark to identify more about their life patterns. Dr. Norman explains that spots behind their fins are specific to each whale shark, and this is able to show where they travel, breed, and tend to settle down.

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