If you ever dreamed of a career working with wildlife – or simply miss the fresh air – Phillip Island’s annual online seal census is a charming way to give it a whirl.

Every autumn since 2018, Phillip Island Nature Parks has asked armchair scientists to log on and help them count seals, identify pups and report entangled animals in Victoria’s offshore island fur seal colonies.

The not-for-profit’s Seal Spotter portal uses drones equipped with high-resolution cameras to photograph entire colonies in a matter of minutes. The photos are then uploaded to the portal for people in the community to analyse.

Some of the colonies can number in the tens of thousands, so any assistance counting the various populations is hugely valuable. Remote monitoring also means the research is conducted without disturbing the seals, unlike more traditional methods that require researchers to physically access the colonies.

And it’s not just the seals that benefit. When the portal launched two years ago, Phillip Island Nature Parks research scientist Doctor Rebecca McIntosh told Broadsheet many seal-spotters found counting seals both “addictive” and “relaxing”, and said many reported feeling a sense of wellbeing from contributing to important research.

“By engaging with a wide range of citizen scientists … 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,” McIntosh said at the time.

The portal opened early this year, at 9am on Thursday April 2.