Mobile app that identifies shark fins to help curb illegal wildlife trade

SINGAPORE: Conservationists and customs officials now have a mobile app to help them track down shark fins illegally crossing international borders.

The Fin Finder app, developed by Singapore’s National Parks Board (NParks), Microsoft and Conservation International, uses artificial intelligence (AI) to identify shark and ray species by scanning fins.

There are around 1,000 species of sharks and rays in the world, of which 30 species are listed as threatened and their trade is regulated.

In Singapore, more than 160,000 kg of fins from endangered sharks and rays listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) entered the country’s borders between 2012 and 2020, said NParks.

This accounts for around 9% of global trade, and shipments mainly go through Singapore to other parts of Asia.

Currently, officers at NParks and at checkpoints take about a week to determine the fin species in each shipment by cross-referencing with paper lists and sending them for DNA testing. The app reduces the time it takes to eliminate possibly illegal fins to seconds.

Agents take pictures of fins which are compared to a database of over 15,000 shark fin and ray images using an AI-driven algorithm in the app. They can then flag suspicious fin shipments for further DNA testing.

Mr Eric Fegraus, Senior Director of Conservation Technology at Conservation International, said that one of the biggest challenges facing customs inspectors around the world is having to identify thousands of species of animals, a task ” superhuman” that might baffle even the experts.

“It’s a huge challenge, but we believe there’s a real opportunity for technology to make a difference,” he said during a press briefing on Tuesday, June 7.

“This led us to create the Wildlife Protection Partnership with a mission to use technologies, like artificial intelligence, to stop and deter illegal wildlife trafficking.”

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