Artificial Intelligence

Australian sea dragon conservation enlists help of divers, artificial intelligence

They may have evolved to blend in, but the ornate faces of Australian sea dragons are so unique that scientists are using facial recognition technology to track the lives of individuals.

Known for their leaf-like appendages, the seahorse-like creatures found along the Australian coastline can be identified by the markings on their faces and along their chiselled snouts.

Now the facial fingerprint is being used to collect data about the number of sea dragons, based on thousands of crowd-sourced images submitted by Australians. 

Perth scientist Nerida Wilson, who started the SeadragonSearch program, said the data could be the key to the conservation of the seadragons.

“We’re getting to know these animals as individuals and that’s a lovely thing,” Dr Wilson said.

A weedy seadragon showing vivid pink and yellow colours and markings.
A pregnant weedy sea dragon displaying vivid colours.(Supplied: Kris O’Keefe)

“For some of them, we get to see them grow up and we get to see at what age they reproduce.

“It’s cute, but it’s also the information that we need for conservation.

“How many times do they reproduce? Do they live after they stop reproducing … or do they reproduce up until the day they die?”


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