Imagine if anyone could be a scientist and contribute to understanding where ocean animals travel? It's quickly becoming a reality. Today, data from citizen scientists is playing an important role in revealing the secrets of ocean animals.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has partnered with engineers at Wild Me and NOAA’s Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary to pool data collected by citizen scientists. That is, basically, anyone. The data can be used to better understand population size, migration routes, and social structures of marine mammals. People can send photographs of a whale to a tool known as Flukebook: a web-based catalog that builds a profile for each individual, like a global social network. Flukebook uses machine learning, a form of artificial telligence, known as A.I., to find the whales in submitted pictures and then individually identify them based on differences in their appearance. Through A.I., Flukebook can process high volumes of information and identify individuals in the photographs.
Species that are individually identifiable can greatly benefit from A.I. and machine learning. If a human can take a catalog of photographs and be able to match individual animals from a study population then we can train machine learning and A.I. to repeat that process. And whereas it might take a human 9 hours to go through thirty thousand photographs to find a match. With A.I. and machine learning, that's a five minute process. With citizen science, we have more eyes on the water, be it industry representatives, boaters, agency representatives from the government, or citizen scientists on whale watch tours or snorkeling or diving with whale sharks and manta rays in the Gulf of Mexico.
By enabling contributions from scientists and the boating public, Flukebook’s functions are saving time and enabling cost effective research while unraveling the secrets of our oceans Increasing our knowledge of marine life helps support science informed decision making. That's the real value of combining technology and citizen scientists. Making every sighting matter.