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Underwater tourist photos help scientists track individual whale sharks, study finds

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Whale shark Wired UK
Whale shark Wired UK

Researchers have concluded that underwater photos crowdsourced from tourists can help them track individual whale sharks. A study that explored the reliability of photos posted to online sites like Flickr revealed that conversationalists were able to pick out an individual whale shark 85 percent of the time, making your vacations snapshots a more valuable asset than you might expect. In fact, experts are hoping their findings will prompt other scientists to seek out such underwater photos. Speaking to Wired, lead researcher Tim Davies said "in the Maldives in particular, where whale shark tourism is well established and very useful for collecting data from throughout the archipelago, our results suggest that whale shark monitoring effort should be focused on collecting tourist photographs."

For a photo to ultimately prove useful, it must capture the dots behind a shark's gills — a unique identifier that computers can use to tell one whale shark from another. So even if that shot of a family member may not seem like a keeper, it could prove invaluable to important conservation work.