Saving Animals Through Mass Surveillance

birds

Readers of this site know that I don’t like mass surveillance of human beings; however, the technology behind the tools used for intrusive observations of our private lives can be used to help animals. Henri Weimerskirch, a French ecologist, is using tons of little sensors on birds to monitor both birds and what they eat (fish). Right now we use human observation, satellites imagery, and radios to track animals. What Weimerskirch is doing now is to use mass data collection a la mass surveillance to monitor the well being of birds and fish.

The bird spies join an arsenal of technologies being used and developed around the world to catch illegal and unregistered fishing boats. The main tool right now is satellite surveillance, which has provided important big-picture data. But it relies on ships having signaling systems on board—which many unregistered vessels don’t, and which can be easily switched off to provide cover for illegal activity. The information is also relatively low-resolution and only updated every few hours.


This fall, as Weimerskirch’s birds begin patrolling the Indian Ocean, the waters around the Republic of Seychelles will come under new scrutiny. The government is partnering with FishGuard, a project developed by the drone company ATLAN Space and the nonprofit GRID-Arendal. The coast guard will control drones for two modes of operation: targeted missions and surveillance. In targeted use, the coast guard will send them to check out a suspicious boat that’s been previously identified. In surveillance mode, the drones will patrol a set area, and their artificial intelligence system will identify and report boats that match a registry of unregistered and illegal vessels.

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