Biologists are doing a favor for their animal friends by using new "visual fingerprinting" technology to "tag" their subjects. Similar to facial recognition technology, the new system identifies and tracks individual animals based on their physical characteristics, such as patterns on a turtle's shell.
One beneficiary of this emerging technology is the leatherback sea turtle, which marine biologists usually identify by conventional plastic tags. These tags often fall off, leaving behind scars but no way to identify specific specimens.
A conservation group called Widecast recognized the problem and teamed up with a Dutch computer firm to develop a way to ID turtles "by unique, pigment-free spots on top of their heads." In effect, the technology turns each turtle's spots into biomarkers -- just like the system being used on South African penguins.