The Alaska Fisheries Science Center has launched a new crowdsourcing project called Steller Watch. The goal is to save time and money by engaging the public to help review half a million images of Steller sea lion sites, taken on the remote western Aleutian Islands.
Scientists are concerned because sea lion populations in most of Alaska have rebounded, but not in the western Aleutian Islands. Sea lions have declined by 94 percent in the past 30 years in that area.
Because the western Aleutians Islands are not easily accessible, scientists are only able to survey the area once, sometimes twice a year. To get year-round data, they began installing automated remote cameras at six sea lion sites in 2012. The cameras have been wildly successful. They photograph sites every five to 20 minutes during the day, every day — that yielded nearly 380,000 photos last year alone.
However, reviewing hundreds of thousands of photos is challenging and time consuming. Right now, pictures from 2016 and a couple hundred thousand photos from 2015 have yet to be classified.
Stellar Watch hopes to engage citizen scientists to help narrow down the most important images for biologists to review. Of particular interest are sightings of marked Steller sea lions.
Read more about the project and learn how to make a scientific classification at https://www.afsc.noaa.gov/News/StellerWatch.htm.