After you have observed and counted the hedgehogs, birds or geckos, now place the walruses. The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and WWF have teamed up to undertake a major research project on walruses in the Atlantic and the Laptev Sea, which borders the Arctic Ocean. Objective: to study how climate change affects marine mammal populations.
But to assess this impact, it is still necessary to be able to observe these populations without disturbing them. Scientists have found the solution. They decided to use satellites to capture thousands of high-resolution images of walrus aggregations installed over 25,000 square kilometers along the Arctic coast.
“Assessing walrus populations using traditional methods is very difficult because they live in extremely remote places, spend most of their time on sea ice and move around a lot.“, confirmed in a press release Hannah Cubaynes, a researcher at the British Antarctic Survey.
“Satellite imagery can solve this problem because it allows us to monitor large areas of coastline to determine where the walruses are and help us count the ones we find.“, he added. It is precisely at this point that the project team space walrus need a little help.
Help count space walruses
BAS and WWF have launched an appeal for volunteers to help them count walruses (Odobenus rosmarus) in the thousands of satellite images collected. “Tracking walruses in the Atlantic and Laptev Sea will require massive amounts of imagery, too much for a single scientist or small team.“, explained Hannah Cubaynes.
“That’s why we need thousands of citizen scientists to help us learn more about this iconic animal.“, he continued. To register, just access the official website of the project carried out in partnership with the company DigitalGlobe from Maxar Technologies and create an account and then watch a short tutorial to learn how to become a “walrus inspector”.
Once their research skills have been assessed, the volunteer just needs to get started and start identifying the walruses in the photos. Over the next five years, satellites will regularly capture photos over Russia, Greenland, Norway and Canada. Images that will then be submitted to the “morse inspectors”.
Project initiators expect to recruit more than 500,000 citizen scientists during this period, during which counting methods will be continually evaluated and improved to collect more data. Information that will provide scientists with better insight to assess the situation of populations without disturbing them.
An “iconic” species threatened by climate change
“Walruses are an iconic species with great cultural significance for people living in the Arctic, but climate change is melting their frozen habitat. It’s easy to feel helpless in the face of the climate crisis and nature“, justified Rod Downie, the WWF’s main polar adviser.
“This project allows volunteers to take steps to understand a species threatened by the climate crisis and help it protect its future.“, he indicated. the species O. rosmarus is globally classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). And climate change is one of the biggest threats to it.
The Arctic, which is their habitat, is warming three times faster than the rest of the planet. And an estimated 13% of summer sea ice disappears every decade. A worrying decline for walruses that use this ice to rest and give birth to their young.
Marine mammals must then find refuge on land, forming huge clumps on beaches, and swim farther, expending more energy to find food. The disappearance of sea ice also makes the Arctic more accessible, encouraging maritime traffic and industrial development that can disrupt walruses.
Thanks to the data collected through the project space walrusBAS and WWF hope to be able to provide useful information to implement conservation measures for the species.
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