Did you ever dream of being a marine biologist or zoologist? Well, you’re about to get a little closer to your wildlife-warrior fantasy, and you don’t even have to leave the house.
From today, anyone with an internet connection can help Phillip Island Nature Parks contribute to some seriously important seal research. Armchair animal conservation just became a lot more effective.
Through the not-for-profit’s new SealSpotter portal “citizen scientists” can access drone images of Victoria’s offshore island fur seal colonies and assist with tasks like counting the seals, identifying pup numbers and even spotting entangled animals.
Phillip Island Nature Parks research scientist Dr Rebecca McIntosh says the drones are equipped with high-resolution cameras that can photograph an entire seal colony within a matter of minutes.
“These images are then uploaded to the SealSpotter portal and people out in the community can help us in our conservation efforts,” she says.
Some of Victoria’s fur seal colonies can number in the tens of thousands, so the contribution made by citizen scientists who can count the various populations through SealSpotter is hugely valuable. Remote monitoring also means you can do the research without actually disturbing the seals, unlike more traditional methods which require researchers to physically access the colonies.
But it’s not just the seals who benefit.
Dr McIntosh says in the report from the testing phase, people called counting the seals both “addictive” (read: surprising amounts of fun) and “relaxing”, and said they felt a sense of wellbeing about making a valuable contribution to ongoing research and monitoring.
She adds that the Phillip Island Nature Parks team isn’t just excited about the data collection, but also some of the other benefits this type of research collaboration brings.
“By engaging with a wide range of citizen scientists including individuals, schools and special-interest groups, we hope there will be an ever increasing awareness within the community of the need to support research to better understand our natural world and improve conservation,” she says.
The SealSpotter portal has been developed by Phillip Island Nature Parks researchers thanks to funding from the Penguin Foundation and the Telematics Trust.