Thousands help research endangered sea lion

Scientific research can be tedious and time-consuming. If you have the numbers, however, it can be easy.

As of the end of August, over 6,500 people have participated in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s Stellar Watch program, helping researchers classify over 130,000 digital images from remote cameras in the Aleutian Islands. Citizen scientists are asked to identify stellar sea lions in the photographs, which are sent to their smartphones and computers.

“The work of citizen scientists has been invaluable,” project leader Katie Sweeney said in a prepared statement. “They help us classify images and regularly participate in our talk forums on the project site. Members of the public can even nominate a sea lion of the month, which is then featured in a story on our project blog.”

Launched four months ago, NOAA hopes the Stellar Watch program can help figure out why the endangered Stellar sea lion continues to decline in the western Aleutian Islands. According to NOAA, sea lion populations have declined 94 percent in the Aleutians in the last 30 years. They hope to classify 500,000 images through Stellar Watch, which will help them make population estimates and determine the health of sea lions in the Aleutians.

It’s scientific work many people can do. Access to the internet and the ability to tell a log from a sea lion are all that’s required. The Stellar Watch page pulls up an image from one of its remote cameras and users click a “yes” button if they see sea lions. The program is live right now and can be reached at https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/sweenkl/steller-watch.

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