Every year, biologists visit the US state of Alaska to count the number of Steller sea lions (also known as northern sea lions). They also study images of the mammals. For the last 40 years the population has been in decline, but the reasons for the worrying trend are unknown.
To try and get to the bottom of the mystery, an open innovation project called Steller Watch has been launched.
The Alaska Fisheries Science Center has 20 remote cameras stationed on five islands in the western Aleutian Islands, sites that are known to be visited by the sea lions. The cameras take pictures every five to 20 minutes every single day of the year. They capture images whether or not a sea lion is present and last year alone, there were nearly 400,000 photographs. That’s a lot for scientists to comb through.
In this first stage of the open innovation project, members of the public are being asked to look at the images and just highlight the ones where there are sea lions present. This will help to whittle down the number to just those of the highest priority for biologists to study.
Looking for Answers
Ultimately, the scientists are only interested in studying marked Steller sea lions. These are animals that have been previously marked with a unique code. Tracking these sea lions through their lifetime can reveal a lot about population movement events, birth rate, survival and many other factors. From this information, scientists may be able to find out the reasons why the population is in decline.
To find out more about Steller Watch and to take part, click here.