Currently, there is no reliable or usable estimate of the number of seals along Namibia’s coast. Using sophisticated infra-redtechnology, the seals along the coast, both on land and in the water, were counted, providing an estimate of the population.
Researcher: Dr Conrad Brain
Organization: Wilderness Safaris Namibia
To date, there is no reliable or usable estimate ofthe number of seals along Namibia’s coast. This is a highly contentious issue as the international and local conservation and scientific community is extremely concerned about the management of the Namibian seal population. Damage is currently being done to the image of Namibia as a country committed to conservation through the seal debate, not to mention the effects of the management of seals on the population itself. Beneficiaries of the project are therefore the seals themselves as well as a sound image of conservation inNamibia.
The objective of the project is to develop and implement sophisticated infrared technology from aircraft to count seals along the coastline of Namibia.
Highly sophisticated infrared technology and equipment – Forward Looking Infra Red (FLIR) cameras – can easily be adapted to identify body heat signatures of seals both on land and in the water. As this data is electronically stored, each signature can then be counted and totalled for an estimate of the population. This technology is particularly applicable for this count given the cold Benguela current and the resultant large difference in temperatures of environment and body heat.
The initial phase of the project focuses on Namibia’s largest seal colony, which is to be found at Cape Cross, to define and refine the survey techniques and methods. This is anticipated to take about a week. Thereafter the plan for the entire coast is to be formulated and implemented. The project begins in July to take advantage of the colder ocean.
Considering the use of this new technology in Namibia, it is hoped that this project will generate wide interest and provide exceptional publicity. It is anticipated that after the Cape Cross Phase, the huge fishing industry of Namibia will become involved and this will ultimately be good for the ongoing health of Namibia’s coastline and ocean ecosystems.
The aim of this section of the project was to introduce and test the viability of using highly sophisticated Forward Looking Infra Red (FLIR) cameras as a method of recognising and counting seals at a specific colony at Cape Cross on the Namibian coastline. Because this type of technology is only available to police and military units, and the only camera in Namibia belongs to the Namibian Police Air Wing, specific approval was requested and obtained from the Inspector General for the temporary use of the Police helicopter with the FLIR attached.
In February 2014, when the Cape Cross colony had returned, the pilot survey was carried out with support from the Wilderness Trust, Wilderness Safaris, Paul Van Schalkwyk Photography, the Namibian Police Air Wing and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. Fixed-wing support and photography to use and compare standard digital photography with the infrared camera was provided in the form of the specialised Air-Cam aircraft.
While we are still developing the software to automatically count the infrared signatures captured with the camera, the survey was a huge success in that we were able to ascertain that the FLIR camera can easily and with great clarity identify seals both on the beach and in the water up to a few metres in depth. Manual counting of the signatures is also possible and both methods will be elaborated on in the final report. The project will now be expanded to count the entire Namibian coastline and thereby contribute invaluable data to seal conservation and management. Manual counting of the signatures is also possible and both methods will be elaborated on in the final report. The project will now be expanded to count the entire Namibian coastline and thereby contribute invaluable data to seal conservation and management.