Weddell Seal Population Count

Weddell Seal Population Count

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.

Project Details

  • 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

    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 Additional information is available on the Weddell Seal Science site.

See more projects in FreeData ProcessingAll Ages.

What Is Citizen Science?

Research often involves teams of scientists collaborating across continents. Now, using the power of the Internet, non-specialists are participating, too. Citizen Science falls into many categories. A pioneering project was SETI@Home, which has harnessed the idle computing time of millions of participants in the search for extraterrestrial life. Citizen scientists also act as volunteer classifiers of heavenly objects, such as in Galaxy Zoo. They make observations of the natural world, as in The Great Sunflower Project. And they even solve puzzles to design proteins, such as FoldIt. We'll add projects regularly—and please tell us about others you like as well.

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