Conference Presentation: Public Photo Shots to Whisker Spots

Last year, preliminary results from the Whisker Patrol project were presented at an international conference in Adelaide.  The proceedings from this conference are now available online.

ICMMPA logoThe International Committee on Marine Mammal Protected Areas (ICMMPA) is a group of international experts dedicated to the conservation of marine mammals and their habitats.  This group holds periodic conferences to promote marine mammal conservation through marine protected areas and other management measures.

The third ICMMPA conference was held 9 – 11th November in Adelaide, including a series of panel discussions and workshop sessions involving over 100 delegates from more than 20 countries.  The ICMMPA3 conference centred on the theme “Important Marine Mammal Areas – a sense of place, a question of size”.  This theme was chosen to give particular attention to the need for developing criteria for identifying areas important to marine mammals, as well as addressing the challenges of managing very large and very small marine mammal protected areas.

One of the important aspects of managing marine protected areas is engaging stakeholders (such as members of the public) in marine mammal habitat protection.  “Marine mammal protected areas, or MMPAs, can give the public a stake in what happens in the sea,” says ICMMPA Chair Naomi McIntosh.  “Indeed, without that involvement, it is difficult to create successful MMPAs”.

Whisker Patrol key investigators Sylvia Osterrieder and Dr Chandra Salgado Kent attended the conference to present a summary of the project.  This presentation was part of a workshop within the conference entitled “Citizen Science and Important Marine Mammal Areas”, which aimed to give an overview of the various ways citizen science can contribute to research, management, advocacy and education in relation to MMPAs.

Key investigator Sylvia Osterreider presenting the Whisker Patrol project at the ICMMPA conference in Adelaide (Credit: Jo-Marie Acebes)

Key investigator Sylvia Osterreider presenting the Whisker Patrol project at the ICMMPA conference in Adelaide (Credit: Jo-Marie Acebes)

In her presentation, Sylvia introduced Whisker Patrol and described the project aims to test a new, non-invasive photo-ID method using photographs of whisker spot patterns of Australian sea lions.  She explained how this technique engaged citizen scientists to help collect suitable photos by way of a website, which also allowed the community to upload their photographs directly to researchers.

By 21 October 2014, there had been 3,777 visitors to the Whisker Patrol website and 939 photos had been provided by citizen scientists.  Along with photos collected by Sylvia in the field, these citizen science contributions have been used, and continue to be used, to develop and test software to aid in the identification of unique sea lion whisker spot patterns.  While there are some limitations in using only very good quality photos (e.g. photos with the required 90° angle, in focus, good resolution, no tilt, and with clean muzzles), public submissions are a valuable contribution to research.

The full talk summary is available to download here (pg 59).  Thank you to all our Whisker Patrol citizen scientists for their contributions!

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