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August 18, 2003
Grey Whale Research off the Coast of British Columbia
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Message from the Editor

Welcome to GISWeekly! This week we feature an interview with marine biologist Michelle Kinzel, who researches the feeding ecology of grey whales. These huge animals are driven by their need to consume vast quantities of tiny mysid shrimp to store enough energy for their migration south for the winter. The amount and type of prey available in a location determines residency and occupancy for the whales.

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Industry News

Grey Whale Research off the Coast of British Columbia

by Susan Smith

Marine biologist Michelle Kinzel does research on the feeding ecology of grey whales, specifically looking at behaviors -- home range analysis. As a graduate student she found the Coastal Ecosystems Research Foundation, a registered Canadian charitable organization, on the Internet, and was hired on as a wilderness leader and to work with the team on grey whale research. Coastal Ecosystems Research Foundation has been doing grey whale research since 1995 and invites the general public to assist as "paying volunteers" in research on the feeding behavior, movements, and abundance of grey whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins, killer whales and humpback whales, off the Central Coast of British
Columbia, Canada.

The grey whale is quite a remarkable creature with a lifespan of 60 to 80 years. About 12 metres long, adults average 30,000 kg and eat tiny prey. The whale scoops up great mouthfuls of seawater, forcing it through the baleen, a set of fringed keratin plates hanging in the whale's mouth. The baleen filters out the mysids, amphipods, and other small crustaceans, which the whale consumes.

How did you get introduced to GIS?

For several years, I was not involved in GIS, and focused my research on behavioral observation. For the grey whale research we had a Photo ID Catalog and we were just collecting the data. My introduction to GIS was actually through another non profit, the Oceanic Resource Foundation. The director of that organization, Greg Carter, received a grant from ESRI and The Society for Conservation GIS (SCGIS) which included several software packages and computer training. He introduced me to ArcView and I started to learn it on my own in conjunction with a sea turtle satellite telemetry project. We attached transmitters to green sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico and we analyzed our Argos satellite
data using the GIS. So I learned the skills for GIS with sea turtles, and then I applied it to my grey whale work.

Are you still using ArcView for the whale research?

Yes, ArcView 3.2 and an extension called Animal Movement. The Animal Movement extension was actually written by Phillip Hooge
Email Contact in Alaska, at the Biological Science Office Glacier Based Field Station. It's a free download program that uses several GIS tools to analyze animal movement and habitat usage.

How was the location for the whale research determined?

Coastal Ecosystems Research foundation found that location. I was very fortunate to find them on the Internet and I started conversing with them and asked them if I could do research with their company. And they were more than happy and asked me to come. We started a relationship from that summer on in 1996. I was fortunate that they had already done the groundwork, they had already established the campsites, and I was able to come onboard and work with the crew and other researchers.

What were you initially looking for when you embarked on the whale research?

Our main area of focus was behavior. We were categorizing the behaviors of the whales and building a photo ID catalog and so basically we were just taking pictures of the whales to determine residency and occupancy so we wanted to know if the animals were coming back every year and we wanted to know what kind of occupancy patterns they were exhibiting.

Did you have the whales tagged to know which was which?

The photo ID catalog allows you to identify the whales because all of the whales have a natural pattern mark on them that is as unique as a fingerprint. Some of them have a scars or nicks or notches out of the edges of their tail flukes and grey whales have barnacles that live on them. When the barnacles are removed or when they fall off every year they leave a scar behind, so they leave white markings and scars. Sometimes they've run into rocks or things underwater; some of them actually look like they've been hit by propellers, very very few, but we call those 'ship strikes'. The photo ID catalog allows us to identify individual animals and we have 74 whales identified. They're numbered
G1 through G74. Ideally what you like to get is a picture of the underside of the fluke and the right and left side of the animal. And that is a great non-invasive way to be able to identify the animals without having to put tags on them. It worked better for us because we didn't want to be too close to the animal and we didn't want to do anything that was going to alter its behavior. And with tagging -- the animals can have a response to the boat, to the presence of humans, they can have a response to the actual tag itself.

Are they an endangered species?

They were removed from the endangered species list in 1993. Their population has been increasing ever since, and they are now considered to be fully recovered.

What are the most significant developments you've seen in the research so far?

We saw a shift in the number of whales occupying the area in the El Niqo years, and we think what happened is that the mysid shrimp were not as available. Most grey whales are known as mud skimmers and they actually feed on the bottom -- they turn on their sides, swim through the mud, eat the crustaceans that live in the mud. But the animals in our study area are actually feeding in the water column. So they're employing an opportunistic mode of feeding and they are eating primarily mysid shrimp. In the El Niqo year, 1998, we actually saw a decreased number of whales in our study area. We think what was happening was the amount of prey dropped dramatically for two reasons: 1) the cold
current and the upwelling were absent because of the El Niqo shifts and the water is actually warmer. The mysids are able to live in the water but they're not able to complete their breeding and lifecycles so you have a reduced population, they're not heat intolerant to the water but it does interfere with their lifecycle so you have less breeding. 2) There was also a shift in the pilcher, which are a small schooling sardine that were brought up with the El Niqo current, hadn't been in that area in 30 years. During the El Niqo year, all these pilchers also eat the mysid shrimp, so we think the pilcher were outcompeting the whales for food.

The whales fast for half of the year. When they are on the migration route they don't take in enough energy to meet metabolic requirements, therefore whales need to store a large amount of energy reserves before they begin the annual southbound migration down to Mexico. Whales select feeding grounds in part based on the amount of prey, not only to meet metabolic needs but also to store up to 50% of their body weight in fat. If they don't have enough prey they will move onto another feeding area. That's what happened in the El Niqo year. There just wasn't enough food to support the whales so they went to another area.

What other things make a difference to the habitat and movement of whales?

There are a lot of variables, but the primary requirement of the whales is the feeding grounds. It really is focused on the amount and type of prey available and so the amount of prey is really going to be the most crucial factor, because the ocean environment, temperatures etc. aren't going to be drastically different enough to make a difference for the whales. The whales are insulated and they are thermally comfortable in the water, so the water temperature isn't going to influence them. The habitat is variable. There are kelp beds that form and reform each year, and while you'll have kelp beds in the same general area, winter storms can tend to remove most of the kelp beds. They come
back the next year and they may be in a slightly different place and different bay. There will always be effects that we don't fully understand but the most important factor is the amount of prey available. These animals have an agenda during the summer months. They need to meet metabolic requirements and they have to store body fat. So they have to be feeding most of the time. They spend most of their time traveling and searching for food or feeding. We very rarely see them resting or socializing.

You mentioned every time you took a photo you hit the GPS so you knew where you saw the whale -- is that the primary way you identify their location and track them?

We took GPS readings on the boat. We were generally within anywhere from 30-100 feet of the whale and we would just take the latitude-longitude on the ship data and note that in the photo log, so later on we have student workers from the University of British Columbia go through all our pictures. Normally in a field season we'll take at least 100 rolls of films and so we have student workers go through and quantify the photo ID catalog and match up the whale IDS to the GPS data. It's very time intensive.

With Animal Movement you can use any of a number of functions to analyze your data. One of the things it will give you is what's called a 'minimum convex polygon' and basically it takes all your latitude longitude points and it draws the smallest polygon it can around the perimeter of those points. A more accurate estimate of home range size is the kernel density distribution. Kernel density basically does probabilities of finding the animal in certain locations based on your latitude and longitude. The minimum convex polygon tends to overestimate areas because it doesn't show you where areas are concentrated. So for instance if you have 100 points and you have three that we call outliers
there are really outside the normal range that the animal is found in. This tends to give overestimates of home range sizes. In contrast, the kernel density distributions are actually contours of concentric circles drawn around all your data points, and give you a much more accurate idea of the home range sizes and also gives you a better idea of where the hotspots are, the core areas where the animals are actually being found within the habitat they utilize the most.

Animal Movement is a great package that gives you information on your data based on statistics, a very powerful tool.

Eds. Note: Animal Movement is an ArcView extension that contains a collection of over 40 functions specifically designed to aid in the analysis of animal movement. This data could be collected from radio tags, sonic tags, Argos satellite tags or observational data. The program is designed to implement a wide variety of animal movement functions in an integrated GIS environment. The program also has significant utility for analyzing other point phenomena.

Photos by Michelle Kinzel


Intergraph Mapping and Geospatial Solutions and Laser-Scan announced a reseller agreement that allows Intergraph to resell Radius Topology to its customers. Intergraph Mapping and Geospatial Solutions also announced that Boston-based Geonetics, Inc., has signed a contract with Intergraph to become a Utilities & Communications Registered Solutions Center (RSC). Geonetics specializes in application development and implementation/integration services for organizations in the utilities, transportation, facilities management, engineering and government sectors. Intergraph's RSC program provides companies who are considered best of class in their field with technical
expertise and premium support.

MapQuest, wholly owned subsidiary of America Online, Inc., announced an expanded agreement with Gannett, Co., Inc., the USA's largest newspaper group in terms of circulation, to map-enable the community calendar platform utilized by many of Gannett's newspapers nationwide.

NavCom Technology, Inc. announced that Delta Data Systems, Inc. has completed the integration of its Pocket DLog software for topographic survey applications with NavCom's high-performance, high-accuracy, Real Time Kinematic (RTK) GPS equipment. Pocket Dlog allows NavCom RT Series receiver users to build 3D topographical maps.

Raytheon Company (NYSE:
RTN) has signed an agreement with IONIC under its NASA Synergy IV contract to extend the IONIC OpenGIS Web Coverage Service to support HDF-EOS. As a world leader in interoperable Web mapping, and distributed geo-processing, IONIC will enable Raytheon to expose NASA's EOS-DIS 'Data Pools' for use by the global OpenGIS network.

Magnetek, Inc. (NYSE:
MAG) announced that it has joined the Business Partner Program of ESRI, a leader in the geographic information system (GIS) software field. Magnetek, a manufacturer of digital power supplies, systems and controls used in many industrial, commercial and consumer applications, will integrate ESRI's Arc View(TM) GIS software with Magnetek's HIQgrid(TM) digital control system. This system monitors, controls and predicts the life of electrical equipment such as streetlights and distribution transformers that are powered by or integral parts of the electric utility grid.

PlanetLink Communications Inc., (OTC Bulletin Board: PLKC - News), a provider of satellite-based products and services announced that it has engaged San Antonio, Texas-based Karta Technologies Inc. under an existing consulting agreement to immediately begin work on the design phase of its PlaneTrak GPS technology product line. The PlaneTrak device uses GPS technology to track the movement and location of automobiles and people via a secure, password-protected web site.

James W. Sewall Company recently signed a $1.3 million contract with the Centro de Recaudacion de Ingresos Municipales (CRIM) to complete the first digital parcel map of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Sewall will coordinate the project, totaling more than 800,000 parcels in a 8,959-square-kilometer area, with the Canadian firm Eastcan Geomatics Consultants, Limited, which is under separate contract with CRIM. Utilizing existing planimetric mapping and digital orthophotography from 1997-1998 aerial photography, Sewall will rectify parcel data from CRIM-supplied scans of cadastral maps, convert the data to vector format, and create new parcel IDs. The 14-month project will produce a
digital cadastral data set with greater consistency, accuracy, and completeness. Final delivery of the data will be at three scales (1:1000, 1:2000, and 1:8000) in MicroStation .DGN file format.


Avenza announced the winners of the 2003 MAPublisher Map Competition - a competition that showcases the quality and diversity of maps that can be produced with MAPublisher.

ESRI Business Information Solutions (ESRI BIS), a division of ESRI, announced that it will use Acxiom Corporation's (Nasdaq:
ACXM) aggregated household-level data in Community, a sophisticated neighborhood consumer segmentation system that will enhance clients. marketing applications such as customer prospecting and message targeting. The Community segmentation system is being built on the strong foundation of its predecessor system, ACORN, and will map seamlessly to the household level.

Space Imaging's Wildland Fire Risk Assessment System (WFRAS) approach has been selected by the Southern Group of State Foresters (SGSF) to support ongoing fire management planning and wildland fire risk analysis in each community, county, congressional district and fire response zone of the organization's 13 states. The member states are Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Virginia, Texas, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Oklahoma. The organization also includes the U.S. Forest Service's Region 8 Office in Atlanta. The Texas Forest Service is administering the project on behalf of SGSF.

Smarter than Ever? The U.S. Census Bureau released a report from Census 2000 on educational attainment that said educational levels of the U.S. population were the highest they have ever been. The report, Educational Attainment: 2000, examines high school and college attendance and completion levels, with data for the nation, regions and states.

53.4 million is the number of students projected to be enrolled in the nation's elementary and high schools (grades K-12) this fall. That number exceeds the total in 1969 (51.6 million) when the last of the "baby boom" children expanded school enrollments. (see U.S. Census Bureau
http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/2003/cb03-32.html and

AAA released recommendations for an addition to state drivers manuals focusing on avoiding distractions in response to a recent AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study indicating that distracted drivers account for 25 to 50 percent of vehicle crashes nationwide. As part of their recommendations for improving vehicle safety, AAA recommended that drivers designate a front seat "co-pilot" or map out their journey in advance. A Positioning Solutions GPS system does not require the driver to take his or her eyes off of the road. Positioning Solutions GPS systems provide multiple spoken audio alerts before each turn, providing drivers with ample time to get into the correct lane and
perform the maneuver.

Bentley Systems, Incorporated announced that the Bentley InstituteSM has added virtual classrooms to its training subscription program. Bentley Institute virtual classrooms provide live, instructor-led training over the Web. Certified instructors lead an interactive environment where attendees may ask questions and contribute to classroom dialogue much like in a traditional classroom.

Trimble (NASDAQ:
TRMB) announced that it has been chosen as the primary Global Positioning System (GPS) timing supplier for Cattron-Theimeg, Inc.'s next generation ACCUSPEED(TM) locomotive radio remote control system. The patent-pending system allows yard operators to control the direction, speed and auxiliary functions of switching locomotives in rail and industrial yards. Trimble's GPS timing adds features that enable the system to utilize scarce and expensive radio spectrum more efficiently, while also increasing the safety and productivity of remote control locomotives in yard operations

The 41st Annual Conference of the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA) will take place October 11-15, 2003 in Atlanta, Georgia and the conference program is now available (
www.urisa.org). The Geospatial Information & Technology Association (GITA) is offering a new seminar on federal regulations, to be presented at the GIS for Oil & Gas Conference, slated for September 29 to October 1, 2004, in Houston, Texas.

Conference sponsors, Intergraph Mapping and Geospatial Solutions and the Intergraph GeoSpatial Users Community (IGUC) invited geospatial professionals to submit abstracts of technical presentations to be considered for the fourth annual GeoSpatial World to be held May 12-14, 2004, in Miami Beach, Florida. GeoSpatial World, the Intergraph GeoSpatial Users Community international training and management conference, is a forum for presenting visions, strategies and real-world solutions for decision makers, managers, technical staff, analysts, developers and others who use, benefit from or support spatially-related data in their organization. Presentations requested for the conference's
technical program may range from implementation processes to project results, from organizational issues to lessons learned along the way.

John J. Hansen, Secretary of Technology for the State of Colorado, will present a luncheon address at the 16th Annual GIS in the Rockies Conference. Mr. Hansen will present his vision of Information Technology (IT) in Colorado, and how GIS fits into that picture. Keith Hangland, Chair of the GIS in the Rockies Board of Directors, said "We are honored to be able to announce that Mr. Hansen has accepted our invitation to address this year's conference. Our attendees always appreciate an opportunity to hear about technology priorities at the state level."

GEOCOMtms, architect of the A.MAZE™ solution that simultaneously optimizes the routing and scheduling of fleet operations, announced today the successful completion of its second round of financing with two well known Venture Capital groups.


The Aerial Acquisition Group (AAG) announced that they have opened an office in Toronto, Ontario. The focus of the office is to service the airborne geophysics marketplace, a worldwide market that focuses on wide area data acquisition in the search for minerals and oil and gas. In conjunction with the office opening, AAG has appointed W.R. (Bil) Thuma as Vice-President.

New Products

Cambridge Systematics, Inc., developer of the Pontis® Bridge Management System (BMS) for AASHTO, and Exor Corporation, a supplier of integrated highways management software, under contract with the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT), have jointly developed synchronization software between their respective bridge management systems in use at KDOT.

Microsoft MapPoint Web Service Version 3.0 has resulted in two revolutionary location based services:
Mobile Location Based Services Network (

TravelGIS Driving Directions Service (
to provide Universal Addresses, Universal Address powered location based service for 26 countries and all large cities of the world.

The GeoFlash ASE (ActionScript Extension), a customization tool for Macromedia Flash MX developers, has just been released. An affordable tool that works with GeoFlash Builder SWF Files, the new product will shorten the development cycle for Flash MX programmers and designers. GeoFlash Builder translates a standard Map in two popular GIS Formats (ESRI ArcView Shape Files and MapInfo MID/MIF files) to a complete system in Flash vector compact form. The information and attributes of the converted Maps are embedded inside the Binary SWF File.

The Geoscape® Intelligence System (GIS) combines nine modules linked to detailed and up-to-date demographic and market data--accessible through a web browser. The system was initially released in April of this year. One of the benefits of the online system is that it adds functionality, data and improved user interface without requiring users to re-install software or data onto their computers. Numerous enhancements already have been added in a "Summer Update."

Intergraph Public Safety (IPS) (NASDAQ:
INGR) announced a new product for wireless handhelds, I/MobilePDA, along with enhancements to its existing Records Management System (I/LEADS-RMS), adding both flexibility and better response capabilities to the IPS suite of integrated products.

The CEDRA Corporation announced the release of CEDRA AVland. A civil engineering software package that expands ArcGIS into the world of land development, site development, parcel/tax mapping, roadway, sewer, drainage and water distribution applications.

Featured Downloads

GISCafe has many popular
Downloads in various categories. Visitors are encouraged to go to the site and add new downloads or update their old ones.

Utilities and Scripts

MapCalc Learner from Red Hen Systems provides grid-based map-amathics for users of MapInfo Professional 6.+ and/or Surfer 7.+. MapCalc rasterizes either TAB or SHP formatted data to a common analysis grid. Able to work seamlessly with both MapInfo Professional's MIG features as well as the advanced geo-statistics and surfacing models from Surfer, MapCalc offers all essential spatial operators in an easy to learn package.

Going on in August…

GIS BRASIL 2003 at COMDEX Brasil 2003

Date: August 19 - 22, 2003

Place: Anhembi's Exhibition Pavillion S©o Paulo City, S©o Paulo State, Brazil

GIS BRASIL is Latin America's largest event geared to the geotechnology market. Every year, since 1994, the companies of this industry and potential users get together to participate in the many activities that take place simultaneously: Conference, courses, the Geotechnology Fair, and the Scientific Talent Show. Specific activities for different audiences such as agriculture, electric power, telecommunications, geomarketing, the environment, city management, and others, are programmed, activities that demonstrate, in practice, how geotechnology accounts for an important competitive advantage in each one of these industries. The activities developed for the Conference are geared mainly to
meet users' needs, with a special focus on cases, with the purpose of fostering information exchange.
Email Contact

FME Training Edmonton

Date: August 25 - 26, 2003

Place: Edmonton, AB, Canada

Learn from the source how to use the core components of the Feature Manipulation Engine (FME) through hands-on training. During our two-day (1/3 lecture, 2/3 exercise and problem solving) training course, attendees learn to unlock the powerful features and functionalities of FME to more effectively manage their data translation and data transformation problems. Questions are encouraged throughout the class and attendees are encouraged to bring their own sample data files.

You can find the full GISCafe event calendar here.

To read more news, click here.

-- Susan Smith, GISCafe.com Managing Editor.

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