Sharkskin astronomy

Date: 1/12/2006

A method of recognising whale sharks based on the starry night sky has won Australian marine biologist Brad Norman a US$100,000 prize from Rolex the watch company. The money will help to raise the profile of the world’s biggest fish and perhaps save it from extinction. Norman has developed computer software that scans photographs of whale sharks and recognises the pattern of white spots on their grey-blue hides. Each shark’s spots are different: as unique as a human fingerprint. Norman along with a software-developing friend in the US, an astronomer with the US space agency NASA took the mathematics which helps the Hubble space telescope to find star patterns and applied it to whale sharks. Snorkellers and scuba divers are encouraged to take a snap of the area just to the rear of the shark’s gills and email it to the whale shark database,www.whaleshark.org. By compiling photos from around the globe, Norman hopes to gain a clearer picture of where the sharks migrate, and how long they spend in different areas.

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