Over the past 20 years, Debure has supervised scores of Eckerd students who have maintained and enhanced DARWIN (Digital Analysis and Recognition of Whale Images on a Network). That software, initially implemented under the direction of former Eckerd faculty member John Stewman, has been downloaded thousands of times. It is designed to help researchers identify bottlenose dolphins, but it also has been used by research groups on spinner dolphins, fin whales, basking sharks and other related species.
The software can help wildlife scientists do something vital to their research—identify individual animals. Debure says researchers who are monitoring certain animal species need to identify specific individuals in order to perform tasks such as making population estimates, determining home ranges and modeling association patterns.
And Mike Hilton, Ph.D., assistant professor of computer science, has developed software used in research on gopher tortoises and frogs. He has released it as an open source, so other wildlife researchers can work with him.
Nicks and notches along the edge of a dolphin’s dorsal fin, along with scratches and other markings that an animal acquires, are features that can be used to uniquely identify an individual dolphin, Debure says. DARWIN uses the edge markings to compare the dorsal fin outlines for similarity.