London, Feb 10 (IANS) The photographs taken by people on a holiday helped scientists track the movements of giant endangered sharks in the Indian Ocean.
A new study, led by a researcher from Imperial College London, looked at hundreds of images taken by the public, of which many were downloaded from image-sharing websites such as Flickr and YouTube.
Individual whale sharks could be successfully identified in 85 percent of cases, surprisingly close to the 100 percent identification was possible in photographs taken by researchers, the journal Wildlife Research reports.
Tourists scuba diving and snorkelling in the Maldives frequently take underwater pictures of the spectacular and docile whale shark, often called the world's largest fish, according to an Imperial College statement.
Tim Davies, from Imperial's department of life sciences, who led the study, said: "Globally, this outcome provides strong support for the scientific use of photographs taken by tourists for whale shark monitoring.
"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," added Davies.
In order for a shark to be clearly identified, any photograph must capture the distinctive pattern of spots located directly behind the gills. This unique marking serves as a 'fingerprint,' which can then be scanned with a computer programme to tell the animals apart.