CU Students and Professor Present Research at Conference in Netherlands

For Immediate Release: 
Apr 01 2008

CONTACT: W.R. Winfrey, Professor of Mathematics

CU Students and Professor Present Research at Conference in Netherlands

Athens, W.Va. –Two Concord seniors, Greg Dempsey from Bluefield and Miranda Martin from Oak Hill, presented research detailing their efforts to identify dolphins by using computers at the European Cetacean Society Conference in Egmond aan Zee, Netherlands.

The conference focused on cetaceans, which are marine mammals. It is an annual meeting of (primarily) European marine biologists who are interested in cetaceans and was held March 10 to 12. Several hundred were in attendance. This was the first time that Concord was represented at the conference. Led by Dr. W.R. Winfrey, professor of mathematics, the two students explained their analysis of an innovative way to identify dolphins.

The students used software written by Winfrey to analyze the shape of the dorsal fin (the back fin) in still photos.

“Many believe that the shape, markings and damage to the dorsal fin are distinctive for dolphins,” Winfrey explained. “In terms of precision and distinctiveness, it’s like facial features rather than fingerprints.”

Martin and Dempsey developed a technique to test the sensitivity of the software originally created by Winfrey. Writing different codes and looking at the pictures, Martin and Dempsey said they focused on the angle of the fin as a component of the identification process. There were, however, certain uncontrollable factors that affected the measurements such as the movement of the dolphin.

“We had to do tests to see how much the angle actually mattered,” he said. “We found out that even a slight angle difference can have significant affects.”

Winfrey has been working on the overall problem for about two and a half years. Martin and Dempsey have been involved since August. Although the students have encountered a few problems with the software, Martin said she hopes that eventually this will become a better way of identifying dolphins rather than the traditional methods of tagging and human comparison of photographs. “It still needs some work,” she said. “We need to find a better method to measure fin angles. This is still a work in progress.”

According to Winfrey, the next big step is to develop three dimensional (3D) software to analyze the effects of orientation of the dolphin relative to the camera. This, he said, would allow for more precise measurements.

“The program we have right now is not as good as it could be,” Winfrey said. “We have room to improve and the challenges will contribute to our greater knowledge.”


PHOTO: Greg Dempsey from Bluefield and Miranda Martin from Oak Hill

Andrea Meador a freshman majoring in English and journalism wrote this news release. Her hometown is Ghent.