To efficiently monitor the growth and evolution of a particular wildlife population, one of the fundamental challenges to address in animal ecology is the re-identification of individuals that have been previously encountered but also the discrimination between known and unknown individuals (the so-called “open-set problem”), which is the first step to realize before re-identification. In particular, in this work, we are interested in the discrimination within digital photos of beluga whales, which are known to be among the most challenging marine species to discriminate due to their lack of distinctive features. To tackle this problem, we propose a novel approach based on the use of Membership Inference Attacks (MIAs), which are normally used to assess the privacy risks associated with releasing a particular machine learning model. More precisely, we demonstrate that the problem of discriminating between known and unknown individuals can be solved efficiently using state-of-the-art approaches for MIAs. Extensive experiments on three benchmark datasets related to whales, two different neural network architectures, and three MIA clearly demonstrate the performance of the approach. In addition, we have also designed a novel MIA strategy that we coined as ensemble MIA, which combines the outputs of different MIAs to increase the discrimination accuracy while diminishing the false positive rate. Overall, one of the main objectives of our work is to demonstrate that the study of privacy attacks can also be harnessed positively, assisting in the resolution of practical issues encountered in the field of animal ecology.

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