In today’s Bulldog wrapup of technology and life science news:
- Whalecams (+ video) help researchers track beluga whales
- A New York startup’s red-hot emojis
- Hacking auto locks
- Olympic hack attacks
- Russian hacker goes on trial
- Webcam whale research buoyed by viewers around the world
The underwater webcam attached to Hayley Shephard’s boat captures what at first appear to be green glowing orbs as she motors through an estuary in remote Canada. Then the orbs come into focus, revealing some of the more than 3,000 beluga whales that gather in the waters in and around Hudson Bay each summer.
The white whales, which resemble oversized dolphins, nuzzle and clown for the camera. They feel the lens with their teeth and blow bubbles at it. Sometimes they swim upside down for a better view.
That’s what Stephen Petersen, head of conservation and research for Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park Zoo, and his wife, biologist Meg Hainstock, are looking for. Only when the whales turn upside down can the researchers determine their sex, which they need as they study the animals’ social structure and behavior.
The webcam’s viewers across the globe are helping, too.
(Catch a video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WrHhVmeM7o)
Its creators — Bozeman, Montana-based Polar Bears International and Explore.org, a project of the Annenberg Foundation — included a “snapshot” feature that allows viewers to take still shots of the feed. Petersen and Hainstock hope the result will be a trove of photographs of individual whales that will help them catalog the population as they try to answer questions about the animals’ behavior.
For example, why do certain whales of a similar age and sex consistently gather at certain times or locations? What function do Hudson Bay’s estuaries serve for these animals? Do beluga whales have a matriarchal social structure? Do certain whale groups’ low numbers have a long-term effect on the rest of the population, such as the case with the population in Alaska’s Cook Inlet, which is struggling as compared to the healthy Hudson Bay population?
“As far as I know, there’s no other investigation of beluga from under the water on this scale,” Petersen said. “A lot of the stuff that’s been done before is from observers on top of the water. It doesn’t really give us a good sense — belugas don’t spend a lot of time on top of the water.”
Explore.org and Polar Bears International have used similar crowdsourcing technology to monitor polar bears’ annual migration in Hudson Bay. Researchers hope years of viewers taking snapshots will provide them with images that can help assess the bears’ health and reproductive rates.
Other scientists are increasingly using crowdsourcing to raise money for research or perform tasks that would be too costly or time-consuming to be performed by a team of researchers. One of the most well-known projects is by the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, whose software has been downloaded by millions of users and allows researchers to use the data-processing power of those computers in the institute’s search for alien life in space.
“In general, there is a growing interest in using citizen science projects to raise awareness and support scientific research,” said Krista Wright, executive director of Polar Bears International.
For the beluga whale project, Petersen said viewers are instructed on how to identify males from females, and are then asked to take snapshots when the whales flip over and their sex is in view of the camera. The photographs are tagged male or female and uploaded to a database that will help identify individual whales and their locations.
Operators switched on the cameras July 15 and have since averaged about 2,500 viewers a day, according to Explore.org spokesman Mike Gasbara.
- Smiley faces at small company making popular emoji apps
Mobile apps that allow users to create their own emojis or share the stylized images of NBA star Stephen Curry and other celebrities are paying off for a small upstate New York company.
Moji Maker— with its mix-and-match menu of happy, angry or goofy faces — was the No. 2 paid app on the iTunes chart as of Friday morning. The company that made it, Moji, recently scored big with its Curry app and is following up with similarly styled apps for two Olympic athletes who won gold this week: swimmer Michael Phelps and gymnast Simone Biles.
- Security experts: Remotes are hackable on many vehicles
A group of computer security experts say they figured out how to hack the keyless entry systems used on millions of cars, meaning that thieves could in theory break and steal items without leaving a broken window.
The experts say that remote entry systems on millions of cars made by Volkswagen since 1995 can be cloned to permit unauthorized access to the car’s interior.
The same experts say another system used by other brands including Ford, General Motor’s Opel and Chevrolet and Renault can also be defeated.
- IOC fights cyberattacks during Olympics
The International Olympic Committee is fending off massive cyberattacks during the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
“Throughout the games, the same in London (in 2012) when you are the center of attention of the world, there are massive attempts everyday all day long to break our security,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams told the Associated Press.
“We have it all year round anyway but it’s particularly intense at the moment.”
The IOC is coming under “regular attack,” he said.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport warned earlier this week of attempts to break into its website. The sports court is overseeing doping sanctions at the Olympics for the first time.
The World Anti-Doping Agency has disclosed a successful breach of its system by hackers, who gained access to Russian whistleblower Yulia Stepanova’s account for the ADAMS database, which tracks athletes for drug testing.
The 800-meter runner and her husband provided evidence that exposed the doping scandal in Russian track and field. Stepanova has been barred from competing in Rio because she served a past doping ban.
WADA said Saturday that Stepanova’s password for ADAMS was “illegally obtained, which allowed a perpetrator to access her account.”
- Russian man faces US trial in lucrative hacking scheme
Prosecutors describe Roman Seleznev, the son of a Russian lawmaker, as a master hacker who orchestrated an international scheme that resulted in about $170 million in fraudulent credit card purchases.
In a federal jury trial that begins this week, they plan to lay out evidence that they say will prove Seleznev hacked into U.S. businesses, mostly pizza restaurants in Washington state, and stole credit card information. They claim he made millions by selling that data on underground internet forums.
Seleznev’s lawyers plan to argue that prosecutors have failed to adequately connect Seleznev with the computer hacks that hit more than 200 businesses over several years. They have also said the U.S. Secret Service agents who arrested Seleznev mishandled his laptop, which may have compromised some evidence.
Seleznev faces a 40-count indictment that charges him with running a hacking scheme from 2008 until his arrest in the Maldives in July 2014.