Scientists have been monitoring the Weddell seal population in the McMurdo Sound area near Ross Island, Antarctica for several decades. Their work has raised several questions about the size of the seal population, its distribution and whether it is increasing or decreasing.
Counting seals has proved difficult, however. There are seals all over the place as new cracks in the ice create new suitable locations for feeding and many seals move to these new areas. Counting individuals is difficult unless they are tagged because it’s hard to know if we counted this one yesterday or not. To solve these problem scientists are using satellite images that can take a picture of a large area at one moment in time. They then can count them using a computer.
As part of the Weddell Seal Population Count Project, citizen scientists can count the seal population over time in several traditional haul-out locations thanks to these satellite images. New images are added every year to make this an ongoing, engaging activity, which allows them to follow the change in population of Weddell Seals.
- PRINCIPAL SCIENTIST: Jay Rotella, Robert Garrott and Don Siniff
- SCIENTIST AFFILIATION: Montana State University (Rotella and Garrott), University of Minnesota (Siniff)
- DATES: Ongoing
- PROJECT TYPE: Data Processing
- COST: Free
- GRADE LEVEL: All Ages
- TIME COMMITMENT: Variable
HOW TO JOIN:
Teachers download files provided by the University of Minnesota and share with students. Included in the files are an Overview, Background Information for Teachers, Seal Count Tutorial and the source satellite images (14 total from Big Razorback Island and Tent Island, Antarctica). When students have completed the Tutorial, send results to firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional information is available on the Weddell Seal Science site.