Archive for the ‘Biology’ Category
This post originally appeared on the PLOS Blog Network.
We’re down to the Final Four in this year’s NCAA tournament, and chances are your bracket isn’t looking too good. Welcome to the club. Worry not! We’ve got four citizen science projects that will help you make the most of Final Four weekend.
MICHIGAN WOLVERINES fans…
If your team gets pummeled this weekend, you’ll make a great Roadkill Observer or Splatter Spotter. Roadkill Survey for Road Bikers need your help to find out where wildlife live and how they move in relation to roads. Project Splatter collects UK wildlife road casualty data via Twitter and Facebook. Both projects hope to identify roadkill ‘hotspots’ for future mitigation projects and help preserve wildlife.
SYRACUSE ORANGE fans…
You’re in the perfect spot to help track the cicadas that emerge once every 17 years across New Jersey, New York and the whole Northeast by planting a homemade temperature sensor in the ground and reporting your findings. Your observations will be put on a map and shared with the entire community. Everyone’s a winner…unless your team loses, of course.
WICHITA ST. SHOCKERS fans…
If you’re too exhausted after the game to harvest wheat in nearby fields, you can still help plants by participating in Clumpy. Simply classify plant cell images by their “clumpiness”, and you can provide researchers with new insights into the progression of bacterial infection in plant cells.
LOUISVILLE CARDINALS fans…
If your team doesn’t live up to the hype, you can always hide your shame in New Hampshire and help scientists study a bird of a different feather. The Ashuelot Valley Environmental Observatory is coordinating volunteer nighthawk surveys on warm evenings in Keene. Submit your observations of booming, peenting, or nighthawks diving.
And for fans of teams that didn’t make it this far…
Check out Planet Four, a citizen science project in which volunteers help planetary scientists identify and measure features on the surface of Mars. By tracking ‘fans’ and ‘blotches’ on the Martian surface, you can help planetary scientists better understand Mars’ climate.
Imagine something more mysterious than the trenches of the deep sea, more convoluted than the intricacies of the human genetic code, possibly even more infinite than the vastness of outer space. Meet the human brain.
Memories, mental disorders, language capability, motor skills, and so much more are encoded in this singular organ. Yet, neuroscientists don’t even know precisely how many different types of cells are in the brain. It is truly a modern mystery. (See all the currently unsolved questions in neuroscience.) There are numerous plausible theories about how the brain works, but solid evidence is sorely lacking.
“The brain is probably the most complex biological structure on the planet,” says Joy Hirsch, professor of functional neuroradiology, neuropsychology, and psychology at Columbia University. Hirsch’s research includes the development of brain mapping procedures for neurosurgical planning. “A complete understanding of the brain and its function is an ambitious goal that requires our best combined technologies, computational facilities, and neuroscientists.”
The Obama administration announced a decade-long scientific effort to examine the human brain and build a map of its activity, a project that seeks “to do for the brain what the Human Genome Project (begun in 1990) did for genetics.” This $3 million undertaking comes from the Brain Activity Map (BAM) project spearheaded by the Kavli Foundation. As science journalist John Rennie shares here, some in the neuroscience community harbor doubts about whether the time is right for a high-profile, inevitably politicized project like this one. Science takes time, and data analysis on this scale would certainly not happen overnight. Some say that the Human Genome Project left us realizing there is still so much more to learn. Will the Brain Activity Map and projects like it encounter the same challenges upon completion, whenever that may be?
The Challenges of Brain Mapping
The tricky part is that scientists have yet to find a way to record the activity of more than a small number of neurons simultaneously without invasive physical probes. New technology enables us to provide the right kinds of images to “map” the brain, but the volume of images that come through would be so overwhelming that it would take an insurmountable amount of time to process the data. Even today’s leading technology, from neuro-nanotech to optobiology to synthetic biology sensors, is limited when it comes to such a large undertaking.
Here’s where projects like EyeWire come in.
EyeWire is an online community of “citizen neuroscientists” who map the retinal connectome (neurons in the retina) by playing an online game. Because the feat of mapping the human brain solo (or even as a small team) would be infinitely large, EyeWire has made use of crowdsourcing strategies to collect data.
“Researchers have calculated that with today’s technology it would take one person 100,000 years to map one cubic millimeter of the brain without the aid of artificial intelligence,” says Amy Robinson, who works on the EyeWire team. (Just to give you a scale, an entire human brain is roughly 1,000,000 cubic millimeters.) “It takes a researcher at our lab…upwards of 50 hours to map an entire cell, depending on its size…and there are over 80 billion neurons in the brain.”
Rules of the Game
For EyeWire, over a time span of seven days, teams on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, Google+, and a formidable-sounding Team X (veterans) competed in the games. Each day, the EyeWire team gives updates on the project’s progress via their blog. “Players” who participate in the game trace neurons based on images of the retina acquired at the Max Planck Institute of Medical Research in Heidelberg, Germany (see below). The data directly contribute to neuroscience research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
It’s competitive, accessible to the masses, and even–for lack of a better word–fun. No game would be complete without a prize, however, so EyeWire has that covered too. The team that maps the most 3D neuron volume in this time frame receives neuron naming rights.
The genius of this project is in the gamification of the scientific process. By tacking on a time limit, assigning teams, and offering a prize, EyeWire spurs competition in potential “players.” Not only are players contributing to scientific research in the long run, but they can also see their contributions directly in front of them in the game in more-or-less tangible form. The gaming aspect of this citizen science project is what sets it apart from many others like it. Projects like the Human Connectome and Blue Brain have similar objectives but very different plans for execution. “When gamified, crowdsourced science is more than expediting data collection and analysis–it helps communicate science with the world,” states Robinson.
The EyeWire team comprises of members hailing from notably impressive backgrounds–game design, software development, community outreach, artificial intelligence, data structures, in addition to neuroscience. This notable cross-disciplinary approach has resulted in a project that brings the best of these worlds to the citizen science constituency.
Benefits of Crowdsourcing
Robinson goes on to explain why crowdsourcing is an ideal strategy for the future of scientific research: “Labs can no longer continue to work in academic isolation. If we hope to expedite our progress, we need to find ways to invite the world to help make discoveries…Not to mention crowdsourcing brings citizens into the heart of the scientific process.”
If nascent neuro-mapping projects like EyeWire fare well in the long run, it could mean that crowdsourcing will play an even more significant role in larger scientific research projects. Joy Hirsch adds, “We need to think outside the box. Outsourcing part of the task to individuals who may not be card-carrying scientists, but [who are] capable and willing to do some parts of the project, could become a major component of the success of [projects like this].”
Amy Robinson humbly quotes Sebastian Seung, the creator and director of EyeWire: “To understand how our knowledge machine works is more than just meta–it’s epic.” The EyeWire Games are simply a precursor to larger crowdsourced scientific research projects to come. If the greater scientific community chooses to participate, the odds just may be in our favor.
Sebastian Seung’s TEDTalk:
Lily Bui is a senior contributor at SciStarter. Although she holds dual bachelors’ degrees in International Studies and Spanish from the University of California Irvine, Lily has long harbored a proclivity for the sciences. Lily has worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.; served a year in AmeriCorps in Montgomery County, Maryland; worked for a New York Times bestselling ghostwriter in California; and performed across the U.S. as a touring musician. She currently works in public media at WGBH Boston and the Public Radio Exchange (PRX). In her spare time, she thinks of cheesy science puns (mostly to entertain herself). Tweets @dangerbui.
See that partridge in a pear tree?
Make sure you count it for Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count, one of the largest and longest running citizen science projects in existence today. It’s a 112 year tradition, with upwards of 60,000 person-days of effort and more than 60 million birds counted each year.
“Each of the citizen scientists who annually braves snow, wind, or rain, to take part in the Christmas Bird Count makes an enormous contribution to conservation. Audubon and other organizations use data collected in this longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations – and to help guide conservation action.” –CBC Blog
From December 14 through January 5 each year, tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas take part in this adventure. Volunteers follow specific routes within a 15-mile diameter circle, counting birds that are seen or heard. It’s not just a species tally—all birds are counted all day, giving an indication of the total number of birds in the circle that day. If you’re curious about the data and research from last year’s count, that’s available on the website too! The results of the bird count will be published in various scientific publications, most notably American Birds.
This is an ideal project to participate in with friends and family during the holiday season. Join thousands of others participating nationwide this year! Find a count happening near you.
Photo: State of Nebraska
“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” –Victor Borges
Aristotle posed that laughter is what sets humans apart from other species. Think about it. We love to laugh—at jokes, movies, at each other. We laugh to ease tension, because others are laughing, or simply just because. All right, Aristotle may not have been completely accurate in his theory (given that other species like rats have been discovered to laugh), but there’s something embedded in the human spirit that thrives off of giggles, chortles, and chuckles.
“Scientists have also found a neural signature for laughter – when you hear a laugh you activate the same brain regions that you would use to move your own face into a smile. These ‘mirror’ responses to laughter reflect the fact that when we hear someone laugh, we are primed to join in (even during a brain scan, which is not very amusing!).” –Science Live 2012, Laughing Brains
I present to you The Laughter Project. The Royal Society has put together a playlist of different laughs that you can listen to. The tricky part is that some are real and some are fake. See if you can guess which laugh is real and which is posed. The results will help researchers at the University College of London learn how people react to different sounds.
Professor Sophie Scott, Chair of Cognitive Neuroscience, talks about laughter.
This project is part of the Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition, which showcases a plethora of exhibits ranging from animal vision to epigenetics to robotic soccer. If you love the Laughter Project, you’ll also want to check out Musical Moods, where you can listen to various songs and decide which mood it best conveys.
Photo: Library of Congress
We couldn’t have asked for a better citizen science project to start off October, a month often associated with Halloween and all things spooky.
Introducing Bat Detective, a project that enlists citizen scientists to screen sound recordings of bats to classify their distinct calls. Bats are nocturnal, making them very difficult to spot with the naked eye, so a growing number of bat surveys are being done acoustically instead. Bat calls “leak” information into the environment each night through echolocation, which bats use to sonically navigate, socialize, and locate prey in the dark.
Citizen scientists from all over the world have already recorded about 3,000 hours of acoustic surveys. Bat Detective has split the surveys in 4-second snapshots, so there are actually millions of files to be sorted. With only a few scientists, it would be an incredibly tedious, perhaps even impossible task. However, with the help of citizen scientists like you, the job will get done much more quickly!
These classifications will be used to create a new algorithm to help researchers easily extract information from their sound recordings and more closely monitor threatened bat populations. Bats are an integral part of their local ecosystems, but one in every five species of bat will face extinction over the next 50 years.
“Bats carry out lots of ‘ecosystem services’ like pollination and seed dispersal,” said Kate Jones, Professor of Ecology and Biodiversity at University College London and Zoological Society of London. “They also eat masses of insects. Losing bats means that all those services are degraded,” added Jones, whose Bat Detective project was made possible through Zooniverse , a popular online citizen science platform.
“The idea of Bat Detective really caught the imagination of the Zooniverse team, and when we heard the bat calls we were sold,” said Chris Lintott, director of Zooniverse. “The rapid sequence of calls that make up a feeding call, and which means the bat has found its prey, is once heard and never forgotten.”
Bats are also incredibly vulnerable to climate change, since their hibernation and migration patterns depend largely on weather patterns, so the success or failure of their local populations often serve as a early warning sign of the failing health of the local ecosystem as a whole. Need we say more?
Be sure to sign up for this sonically exciting and scintillating citizen science scheme! While you’re at it, check out our other bat-related citizen science projects in our Project Finder. You can help the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources with acoustic bat monitoring or identify Indian flying fox bats with the South Asian Bat Monitoring Program.
Coming soon: a collection of Halloween-themed citizen science projects. Keep your eyes (and ears) peeled!
Most of us live in fear of what we don’t know. In science, however, the Unknown is exactly what keeps us hooked. Even the most revered physicist of all time (I’m talking about Einstein, of course) had a little trouble explaining the universe at times, calling what we now know as entanglement in quantum mechanics “spooky action at a distance.” The Unknown can be spooky, indeed, but with citizen scientists in hot pursuit of knowledge and data, we can collectively un-entangle scientific mysteries that come our way this Halloween.
This holiday brings out the dark, the macabre, and the sometimes inexplicable. We put on costumes to temporarily assume roles that we usually don’t play in our normal lives. Here are some Halloween-themed citizen science “costumes,” or roles, that you can don this October.
1. Extraterrestrial Tracker
Astronomy and Space
SETI Live, Zooniverse, NASA
Are we alone? With an ever-expanding, vast universe beyond our tiny blue planet, SETI thinks not. SETI Live is a citizen science project (part of Zooniverse) that invites you to help scan astral objects for radio waves and signals that might be transmitted by extraterrestrial life. The Allen Telescope Array (a name that looks conveniently like “Alien Telescope Array” from afar) scans the skies and sends data back to the SETI Live website, where citizen scientists are able to help sift through information and classify stars with exoplanets.
Or, if you’d rather Be A Martian this Halloween, you can do that, too! On this highly interactive site, you can create Martian profiles to become “citizens” of the planet. (We like to think of it as citizen scientist-ship.) You can count craters, ask questions about Mars in the forum, and tag photos taken by the rovers Spirit and Opportunity, the Curiosity’s predecessors, with descriptions of what you see. No matter where you land on this site, your experience is destined to be out of this world.
2. ZomBee Watcher
Nature and Animals
San Francisco State University Dept. of Biology, SFSU Ctr. for Computer for Life Sciencies, Natural History Museum of LA County
The ZomBee apocalypse is upon us! Run—or buzz your way—to Zombee Watch! Researchers suspect that the parasitic fly Apocephalus borealis is responsible for infecting large populations of honeybees. The fly lays eggs inside the body of honeybees, which then serve as incubators. As the eggs grow, they suck up nutrients from their bee hosts. The hosts become disoriented as their bodies change from within, often leading them astray from their natural habitats. Eventually, newborn fly larvae crawl out of the honeybee’s body and grow into adult flies, beginning the cycle all over again. Citizen scientists can contribute to ZomBee Watch by helping collect sick-looking or dead bee specimens to observe whether parasitic pupae emerge. See what the buzz is about.
3. Vital Signs
Nature, Animals, and Plants
Vital Signs Maine
When distinguishing the un-dead from the living, it’s important to look for the right Vital Signs. This citizen science project brings scientists and novices together to investigate invasive species in Maine. Are certain ecosystems at risk of being overrun by invasive plants and/or animals? Participants can help scientists observe both invasive and native species by taking photographs, then entering data into the online application. The site provides helpful how-to guides for those just starting out and offers a huge database of observations made by other citizen scientists.
4. Secret Agent (Sci)Spy
Nature, Animals, and Plants
Science Channel (Discovery)
Our mobile technology today is analogous to the gadgets of Hollywood’s most sophisticated spies. Use your spy cameras (or phone cameras) to spy on nature and contribute to science. Created by Science Channel (Discovery), SciSpy enlists agents to document the natural world of their backyards, parks, cities, and towns. Report back to base by sharing photos and observations and contribute to research initiatives that rely especially on amateur participation. This project is sure to leave you both shaken and stirred.
Paleontological Research Institution, Cornell Dept. of Education
Dig deep into the past with Fossil Finders and uncover hidden clues about human history. Participants will help paleontologists from the Paleontological Research Institution identify and measure fossils in rock samples from central New York, enter their data into an online database, and compare their data with the data of other schools. Local participants can sign up for trips to important sites, whereas online participants can engage in virtual tours. Fossil Finders’ learn-by-doing approach to science unearths a sea of knowledge for those who contribute.
Denver Museum of Nature and Science
If you find yourself hording sweets this Halloween, perhaps this next project is just your flavor. The Denver Museum of Nature & Science, supported by the Science Education Partnership from the National Center for Research Resources and National Institutes of Health, has spearheaded a project called the Genetics of Taste: A Flavor for Health. The study aims to increase public understanding of genetic research, while also making strides to better understand the genetic ancestry of the gene Tas2r38, which dictates the ability to taste bitter, and its affect on the health of modern day humans. Don’t mind lending your taste buds to science (after consuming all that Halloween candy)? The opportunities are so tangible, you can almost, well, taste it.
7. Ghost Hunter
Smart Phone Apps
Photo credit: USGS.gov
Earlier this year, Professor Fabian Bustamente of Northwestern University developed an experimental augmented reality Android phone app that allowed users to participate in citizen science while simultaneously playing a game. Participants “zapped” ghosts that showed up on a map of their surrounding area by taking photographs, which were then stitched together into panoramic shots. Commentators believe that augmented reality apps like these could pave the way for future mobile app-based citizen science.
8. Bat Detective
Nature and Animals
Here’s a citizen science project that gives you a glimpse into the lives of these creatures of the night. Bats, nocturnal creatures, are very hard to spot with the naked eye. This project enlists the help of citizen scientists to screen over 3,000 hours of acoustic surveys of bats’ calls, which researchers believe “leak” information about their behavior into the environment each night through echolocation. These classifications will later be used to create a new algorithm to help researchers more easily extract information from their sound recordings to monitor threatened bat populations.
While Hallow’s Eve has you captivated by the curios, be sure to stay curious too! With these citizen science projects, it’s all treat, no tricks. Make sure to visit SciStarter to find over 500 more citizen science projects!
When you wake up in the morning and start your daily routine—take a shower, brush your teeth, cook breakfast—do you ever stop to wonder where all that water you’re using comes from? It’s availability (or lack thereof) is certainly not a common worry in the United States, where as of 2005 (the latest assessment of national water use conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey) about 86 percent of the population relies on public water supplies for household use. Turn a faucet handle, and water, the world’s most precious, life-giving resource, is simply there, ready to cool us or clean us or quench us of our thirst, wherever we need it, whenever we want it.
But for how much longer? Climate change, pollution and unprecedented global demand are already threatening the world’s water supply according to a United Nations World Water Development Report released earlier this year. (SciStarter partnered with Discover Magazine, the National Science Foundation and NBC Learn to explore the Future of Water as part of our Changing Planet series.)
In response to these challenges, two international nonprofit organizations, the Water Environment Federation (WEF) and the International Water Association (IWA), partnered up to launch a challenge of their own.
Today, September 18, is World Water Monitoring Day, a key component of the broader World Water Monitoring Challenge that runs from March 22 to December 31. Thousands of people from around the world will use low cost monitoring kits to test their local water bodies for the basic indicators of watershed health–temperature, acidity, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen—and enter their results into a shared online database. It’s not too late to get involved. The program’s administrators hope that participants will not only learn which rivers, lakes, streams and reservoirs supply their communities but also become aware of the unique combination of environmental challenges each one faces.
“These are issues the next generation will have to cope with,” said Lorien Walsh of the Water Environment Federation. “The water we drink today is the same water people have been drinking for thousands of years. It is a finite resource, and we can’t use it if it’s not clean.”
In 2011, over 300,000 people from nearly 80 countries participated in the World Water Monitoring Challenge. Taking clean water for granted might be common in the United States, but it is a luxury people can ill afford in the developing world, where three million people, most of them women and children, die from water-borne illnesses like cholera every year.
“Kids in Kansas can see the data they collected and compare it to the data collected by kids in the Congo,” said Walsh. “There’s a stark difference.”
It happens every year, and you’re right: it’s just not fair. After nearly three months of uninterrupted fun, gone are the barbeques, ball games and pool parties that dominated the summer schedule just as Labor Day signals the sudden arrival of the shorter, colder, and more structured days of the school year. But before you cast yourself into the depths of the autumn blues, rest assured that we are working hard to make this year’s science lessons a little different and—especially if you like nature and the outdoors—a little more fun!
Below is our third annual “Back-to-School” list of projects recommended to get teachers and students thinking about how to incorporate citizen science in the classroom. Check out our previous installments (2011, 2010) for additional ideas.
Participate in Project BudBurst: The National Ecological Observatory Network invites student citizen scientists to submit their observations of the phenophases (leafing, flowering, fruit ripening) of local grasses, shrubs and trees. This data will be compiled and compared to historical figures to help scientists learn more about the responsiveness of specific plant species to climate change. Their teachers, meanwhile, might consider enrolling in the BudBurst Academy, an online course for K-12 educators providing all the necessary information for implementing Project Budburst and engaging in citizen science in your classroom.
Plan your own BioBlitz: Even (or perhaps especially) if you missed the 2012 BioBlitz co-hosted by the National Park Service and the National Geographic Society, consider planning your own in your own neighborhood or schoolyard. These biodiversity snapshots provide valuable data for analysis of local species and their habitats.
Count some bugs: Don’t let those math skills go to waste! SciStarter features several opportunities to count stuff, particularly insects and other creepy crawlies. Just pick your favorite: dragonflies, butterflies, bumble bees, spiders, ants, and worms.
Heads up: So bugs aren’t you’re thing. No problem. How about some astronomy? You can grow tomatoes to assess the feasibility of long-term space travel; search for the compound that stores solar power and thus solves the world’s energy crisis; craft a story about your favorite astronomical bodies; or help astronomers search for and identify new planets and stars!
Be a mapmaker: The U.S. Geological Survey is considering the restoration of The National Map Corps, its volunteer mapping initiative, launching a pilot program in the state of Colorado. Anyone with an Internet connection can update the national map, adding the important man-made structures throughout the community such as hospitals, fire stations, and schools. The USGS could expand the program into other areas in the future if its initial efforts are successful. Come on Colorado!
Attention all backyard explorers and rosebush whackers: this is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for. Your days of leading patient parents on perilous neighborhood expeditions are over. Put down that “machete.” Stop mushing the dog. Grab your merit badges. Adventure is calling!
This Friday, August 24, the National Park Service and the National Geographic Society will host their annual BioBlitz species count at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Hundreds of students and thousands of local citizens will join about 200 scientists, naturalists, and explorers from around the country to collect and analyze wildlife data, transforming the forest into a massive outdoor classroom alive with curiosity and discovery.
“I am always moved by the commitment of the National Parks Service to protecting our country’s ecological diversity and sharing it with the general public,” said Daniel Edelson, Vice President for Education at National Geographic. “The BioBlitzes are…explicit strategies for preparing young people to care for their world.”
National Geographic has been “inspiring people to care about the planet” through its magazine since 1888, but it is relatively new to the business of “preparing” them to do so. With the rapid proliferation of digital media, the society saw an opportunity to provide teachers and students with the resources to learn (curricula, films, games) and the tools to take action through a more robust educational initiative, thus engaging with their audience in ways never thought possible. Can’t make it to Colorado to catch bugs, spot birds, and count elk on Friday? You can take part in the action via their Google Hangout starting at 3 PM (EST), or even plan your own BioBlitz by following their instructions.
“It’s exciting to see that other people are embracing the concept and using the resources we developed to conduct their own biodiversity research in their own parks in their own communities,” said Sean O’Connor, a BioBlitz project manager.
This year’s BioBlitz, the sixth in a series of ten leading up to the National Park Service’s Centennial in 2016, comes amidst the strain of another round of federal budget cuts and continued lack of funding for the program. As the National Park Service prepares to face the challenges ahead—political, economic, environmental, or otherwise—National Geographic aims to show its next generation of stewards why its 397 parks encompassing ver 84 million acres of land are worth preserving.
“We believe [the most important lesson] we can teach young people is how interconnected our world is,” said Edelson. “Even in our most pristine National Parks, you can’t escape the impact of human activities on the natural environment. A BioBlitz is a chance for young people to see those impacts and learn about the connections between their own actions and the health of ecosystems.”
You might not realize it, but it’s always out there. Planning. Growing. Waiting for the perfect time to strike. You never quite know when it will happen. Maybe July. Maybe August. But you know it’s coming, and you can’t escape it. In an awesome display of speed and power, it bursts from an otherwise calm summer sea and takes over. Terrifying though it is, you just can’t look away.
I’m talking, of course, about the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, the seven-day marathon of programming celebrating the world’s most feared—and revered—predator. Now, in the midst of it’s 25th year of sidelining would-be beach-goers, Shark Week enjoys ratings (drawing in 3.3 million viewers in its first hour in 2011) previously reserved for major television events and pop culture phenomena like the Super Bowl or American Idol.
Scientists, meanwhile, are hard at work studying these creatures, and they need your help! I know you’re thinking, and don’t worry. We saw Jaws too. But did you know that several of the over 400 species of sharks, including the iconic Great White, are endangered or vulnerable due to commercial fishing and shark finning?
Here’s a few citizen science projects from around the world enlisting the help of divers, fishermen and boaters to contribute data for scientific study or conservation purposes. Happy Shark Week!
Shark Trust invites everyone, especially recreational divers, to report their shark sightings and send in photos for inclusion in their global database used by scientists and conservationists to track and manage sustainable shark populations around the world. Shark Trust ensures the security of its data and safeguards local populations by listing only the region of the sighting, never the exact location, lest it be misused by hunters or fishermen.
According to Michael Bear of California Diver Magazine, divers in the waters off San Diego suddenly began reporting sevengill sightings in 2009. “So little is known about them and their [migration] habits,” said Bear, “[so I wanted to find out why] they began appearing and congregating in a specific spot.” Through his partnership with the Shark Observation Network, the Sevengill Shark Sightings data will contribute to a global database available to researchers and the general public. Bear also founded Citizen Scientists of the Ocean on Facebook, whose relatively modest (but active) membership includes “Her Deepness,” oceanographer and explorer Dr. Sylvia Earle. Like it!
Spot a fin and email it in! The Basking Shark Project from the New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance invites fisherman, whale watchers, and boaters to report their sightings of the basking shark, one of the world’s largest fish at 39 feet long, second in size to only the whale shark. Their triangular dorsal fin often breaches the surface when they feed—a chilling image from an all-but-harmless beast. They’re filter feeders! Your data will help scientists better understand their local population size and distribution patterns.
If you’re lucky enough to spot or swim alongside one of these rare, majestic (and endangered) creatures, snap a photo and send it to ECOCEAN’s Whale Shark Photo-identification Library. Using the same algorithm that NASA astronomers use to analyze star patterns and thus compare photos of the night sky to guide telescopes, scientists can identify and track individual whale sharks by the unique spot patterns on their backs. According to Wired, the approach is not limited to whale sharks, having been adapted for tracking polar bears by their whisker patterns and humpback whales by the shape of their fins, and could revolutionize wildlife tagging and tracking as we know it.
Why Sharks Matter
If you find yourself in Charleston, SC, you can help David Shiffman from Southern Fried Science and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources capture, tag, and release their resident shark species. At least you’ll be on a boat. Anyone can volunteer, but beware of seasickness!