Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Researchers say the new technology, termed BearID, created a 'non-invasive' technique to study the animals.

Melanie Clapham/Handout

Despite a decade of behavioural research on grizzly bears in B.C.'s Knight Inlet, Melanie Clapham still has trouble telling some individual bears apart.

Brown bears, which include grizzly bears, can change dramatically in their appearance during their younger years and, unlike other wildlife that has spots or stripes, they lack distinguishing markings on their bodies. Ms. Clapham, a conservation biologist and postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Victoria, dreamed of technology that could help her individually identify these furry mammals.

While she was looking for a tech team to make that idea possible, south of the border, Ed Miller and Mary Nguyen, two Silicon Valley engineers who are also outdoor and wildlife enthusiasts, had started a project to develop machine-learning models that could be adapted to grizzly bears.

Story continues below advertisement

The three connected in 2017 through a conservation technology network. Their research, published in the open-access journal, Ecology and Evolution, earlier this month, has culminated in a system that uses deep learning, a method of artificial intelligence, to detect and identify brown bears from photographs.

Researchers say the new technology, termed BearID, created a “non-invasive” technique for them to study the animals.

“It enables monitoring these bears without having to capture them and tag them or get genetic information from them,” Mr. Miller said.

BearID detects a bear in an image, rotates and extracts the face, creates an encoding for the face that will eventually help classify and identify the individual.

The research team trained and tested the application using more than 4,600 images of 132 known grizzly bears located in Knight Inlet, as well as Brooks River, in Katmai National Park, Alaska.

With the help of this software, the team identified individual bears with an 84-per-cent accuracy.

Ms. Clapham said not being able to recognize individuals in a consistent manner limits the scope of the type of research that can be conducted on them, but the new system is helping remove those barriers.

Story continues below advertisement

By combining BearID and remote cameras, researchers will be able to conduct population assessments on grizzly bears, which have been historically difficult to do with accuracy.

“To be able to manage species and populations appropriately, we really need accurate estimates of the population numbers, and so this can hopefully help us to get there for grizzly bears,” she said.

For Mr. Miller and Ms. Nguyen, who could only work on this project outside their regular work hours, developing the software wasn’t an easy task.

Machine-learning models for human face recognition are trained on millions of images, however, for wild bears, Mr. Miller said, there are hardly enough photographs.

Knight Inlet is a prime habitat for black bear and grizzly bear populations in B.C. and is located in the traditional territories of the Da’naxda’xw-Awaetlala First Nation.

Melanie Clapham

“It would be very difficult to collect photographs of 300,000 different bears, let’s say, and keep them each individually identified, so that’s what makes it very difficult,” he said, adding they had to tailor the algorithm to work with a smaller set of data on a particular group of bears.

At the early stage of the project, Mr. Miller said they found a machine-learning software that could detect the face of a dog, so the team fine-tuned the model for bear faces, which became the first crucial step of the bear-identification process.

Story continues below advertisement

In the future, this software can potentially be applied to other species such as wolves, Mr. Miller added.

Knight Inlet is a prime habitat for black bear and grizzly bear populations in B.C. and is located in the traditional territories of the Da’naxda’xw-Awaetlala First Nation. The nation’s leader called the technology a good fit for his community.

“We wanted to make sure that we could understand the impact we’re having on the bears as well. So this technology just helps us really pinpoint which bears are in which areas and how habitual that is, and what is their range like,” said Dallas Smith, president of Nanwakolas Council that comprises five First Nations, including Da’naxda’xw-Awaetlala.

The new technology also helps the communities deal with bear-human conflicts, which have become more prevalent, he said.

These are “important to us because, as First Nations, grizzly bears are iconic to our culture,” Mr. Dallas noted.

Ms. Clapham said her team has been working with these communities by using BearID in combination with camera trapping to observe and recognize individual bears within their territories.

Story continues below advertisement

As salmon populations have been in steady decline over the past few years, Ms. Clapham said, her team is interested in continuing work with these First Nations to look at how the bears' movements are affected by reductions in salmon returns.

Last year, as part of the study, Mr. Miller visited Knight Inlet.

“It was so fun and exciting to be able to see these bears out in the wilderness living their lives, not realizing that they’re celebrities from our standpoint,” he said.

We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies