WCA Partner Happywhale was founded in 2015 and has since shown the incredible power of citizen science and how data collected by the public not only helps researchers but can also create lasting behaviour change in those who contribute.
Ted Cheeseman recently spoke online at SCAR (Scientific Commission for Antarctic Research) about how the Happywhale platform has enabled public contributors and research collaborators to further Antarctic research and the ongoing impact that this type of citizen science might have for global data collection.
Cheeseman T2, Lynnes A1, Southerland K21International Association Of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO), South Kingstown Rhode Island, United States2Happywhale, Los Gatos California , USA
The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) states that ambassadors are created through responsible tourism, creating awareness and advocacy that lead to positive conservation outcomes. We propose that this ambassador effect can be significantly deepened when visitors actively contribute to Antarctic research through citizen science, particularly when it includes a rewarding feedback loop. We created a web-based citizen science platform (Happywhale.com) to collect images and sighting data for marine mammals, and implemented automated image recognition for humpback whale fluke photo ID. Automated feedback mechanisms notify contributors of research results, informing them about the identity of whales they have photographed when identified, and also alert them whenever ’their’ whale is seen again.
Happywhale has seen organic growth since inception in 2015. It has received 267,871 images globally from 6140 public contributors and research collaborators, with 859 contributors sharing images from the Antarctic. Happywhale is an attractive, easy platform to use, with 35% of IAATO operators running the project on their vessels in the 2018-2019 season. The key to its growing success is rapid feedback to contributors which educates about whale encounters, with links to known sighting history. It encourages greater attention to marine mammal sightings, potentially inspiring greater efforts to engage with science. The resulting dataset has identified approximately 25% of individual humpbacks on the Antarctic Peninsula, a valuable asset for population modelling, and informed IAATO development of an extensive vessel slow down zone.