Fin Spotter: Where people, machine learning, and animals connect

Fin Spotter is a free, online resource, established to strengthen the conservation of benthic sharks in South Africa. A catalyst for collaboration, Fin Spotter enables researchers to manage, share, analyze and archive data via pioneering, user friendly software. Fin Spotter unites researchers, conservationists and citizen scientists, enables connections with individual animals, and provides robust data to inform conservation of sharks and their habitats.

Why use Fin Spotter?

No one researcher is equipped to dive the depths required to study sharks consistently and without gaps. Fin Spotter's powerful data management, photo matching algorithms and analysis tools, consolidates existing research and connects data to provide large scale information for researchers and conservation groups.

For the first time, Fin Spotter provides a place for researchers, conservationists and citizen scientists to work together to fill the gaps in our knowledge of these incredible species.

What does Fin Spotter do?

Fin Spotter uses photographs of shark patterning to distinguish between individual animals. Identify your shark in as few as three clicks - rapid identification is achieved using pattern recognition and photo management technology. Anyone can contribute to Fin Spotter. All you need is to submit your photos and any other sighting information and Fin Spotter can do the rest. Soon, you will even be able to follow an individual shark, find out who she is friends with, where she goes, and who has seen her lately

Researchers control their own data

Researchers keep full ownership and control access to their data in Fin Spotter. Permission settings allow you to choose who has access to your data and allows for easy collaboration between groups. Fin Spotter can be used within organizations to allow web-based access to data and matching without sharing any data beyond your organization. Multiple team members, in multiple locations, on multiple computers can all work on the same dataset at the same time.

Fin Spotter enables collaboration when photoidentification matches are made. The potential match list will be redacted if your sharing is turned off. You will be able to see that your individuals potentially match other datasets, but you cannot access the data until both data owners agree to privately and reciprocally share access. By doing this, Fin Spotter allows for the simple compilation of datasets for multi-institutional collaborative projects.

Analysis tools

Fin Spotter provides tools for managing photoidentification, molecular sampling, and sightings databases and includes a growing number of features to help users work with additional software by linking to external programs, including ArcGIS, SOCPROG, Genepop, GenAIEx, WinBugs, and Google Earth.

Archive: saving information for the future

Collecting animal identification data takes enormous time, effort and funding, and can also impact the animals over time. We believe these data provide invaluable records about the oceans and should be preserved for future generations. A generation from now, how will these populations have changed? Will your data be available to help answer new questions about socio-ecology, haplotype evolution, and ocean scale change by the next generation of shark scientists? To support this, Fin Spotter's data can be exported in a number of formats and its infrastructure for archiving identification datasets will be stored on servers in the cloud.

Build networks and strengthen research

All photographic, location, and supplementary data, once imported to Fin Spotter, are in the same format. This feature, together with the ability to share your data privately with specific collaborators, overcomes one of the major hurdles to combining disparate, international datasets. This makes Fin Spotter a powerful tool for researchers looking for collaborators, prospective graduate students, conservation groups looking for data to help advocacy goals, government developing management plans, and people hoping to change the world.